By Mary Boyle
Perhaps the greatest worry for parents today is autism: the CDC estimates that 1 in 68 children will have autism spectrum disorder (ASD), and experts still don't fully understand why. What we do know is that, with that statistic, autistic people are all around us, so it is imperative that we have a better understanding of this epidemic, and how we can best help the children who are affected by it. Amazingly, one of the best ways to do this may be through the theater; at least, that's what I discovered when I saw Mockingbird at First Stage.
Live theater has this incredible way of giving the audience a heightened sense of walking in someone else's shoes; a path to empathy that is stronger and more real than any lecture, conversation, or story can create. In Mockingbird, based on the novel by Kathryn Erskine, we spend some time in Caitlin's shoes (Alex Salter/Emily Harris); an 11 year old autistic girl who is dealing with the loss of her brother in a school shooting. Caitlin's father (Dan Katula), a widower, is doing the best he can, but Caitlin doesn't process things the way most people do, and he is clearly overwhelmed. One of the things Caitlin and her brother loved was the movie, To Kill A Mockingbird. Caitlin envisions herself as Scout, her brother as Jem, and her father as the lawyer, Atticus Finch. While Jem is gone, it is up to her and her father to make things right, for themselves and their community.
Directed by Marcella Kearns, Mockingbird is not a lighthearted look at autism, though it is not short on humor. As Caitlin narrates her own story, her honesty and insight can be as funny as it is brilliant, and the use of lighting and sound creates a very clear experience of what it is like to be Caitlin. This play should be required viewing for anyone who has any association with autistic people; it is, quite possibly, one of the most powerful, insightful, and moving performances I've ever seen at First Stage.
Mockingbird runs through April 9th at the Todd Wehr Theater, located at 929 N. Water St. in downtown Milwaukee. Tickets are available by calling the Ticket Office at (414) 267-2961, or on the First Stage website at http://www.firststage.org. Mockingbird is recommended for ages 7 and up. There is a special Sensory Friendly Performance: Saturday, April 8 at 1:00 p.m.
First Stage has recently announced its 2017/18 Season, which will include Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane, A Charlie Brown Christmas, The Wiz, The Cat in the Hat, Spookly the Square Pumpkin, Antarctica, WI, Judy Moody and Stink: The Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad Treasure Hunt. The season will also include two performances by the First Stage Young Company: The Skin of Our Teeth and Henry V. Theatergoers can save up to 50% off regular single-ticket prices and get the best seats of the season by ordering a Family Package before June 30th!