By Tulis McCall
So. Right off the bat you will know that the seven actors featured in “How To Dance In Ohio” who play autistic teenagers are real life people with autism. They tell you in the prologue. Once you know this you can let go of that factoid because, while it is the truth and the story is based on facts (See the documentary by Alexandra Shiva here) it is not what this show is exclusively about. As a matter of fact the words “autism” and “autistic” are mentioned a total of 10 times in the entire two hours.
“Ohio” feels universal. More like it is about being a teenager and slogging through all the social skill learning that most of us had to learn on the fly. Autism is part of the mix – not the whole shebang. Because these characters are people with autism, they have meetings at the Amigo Family Counseling Center where the the thermostat is set to 70 and the lighting is not too bright so as to no over stimulate the clientele and the floor is open to questions about how the hell to navigate the waters of life.
It is something we all could have used – right?
Somehow they come up with the idea of creating a dance – like a prom – for themselves. As Dr. Amigo (Caesar Samayoa) tells a journalist:
“What is normal? I create supervised learning opportunities to fit my clients’ needs. Basically, the Formal is like a trial run for real life.”
“Formal” as in dress up and dance with each other. Which from our adult point of view might seem like no big deal, but if you take a moment to remember the high school kerfuffle that was PROM (I never went) you will recall that it was all quite terrifying. Terrifying.
So begins the quest for the right dress, the right suit, the right shoes. And every fantasy/terror that creating and preparing for a special event brings with it. The entire enterprise is derailed, however, when a well meaning journalist publishes a well-meaning article that undermines everything these kids are working toward. They must stand in the face of unintended but not surprising prejudice/ignorance on the part of said journalist and reverse course.
My guest at the theatre said she thought this show was cookie cutter and held no surprises. For me it was a revelation. I had forgotten all the high school emotions. This show brought them all back in a much more subtle way than didi “Dear EvanHanson”. The characters are ridiculously charming and perceptive – like most teenagers are. They have had some serious rough times because autism is not a “one size fits all” – As one of the characters says in the prologue “There’s this saying, “If you’ve met one autistic person… you’ve met one autistic person.” You are now meeting seven autistic people.” Life is not predictable. Ever. It is moment to moment.
These characters wear themselves with double doses of pride, confusion and unabashed joy. They are claiming their place in the spotlight. These performances are the center of the piece as the book and the music are on the predictable – but both are lifted by the performances.
If you want a dose of pinpointed joy in this world of horrible news – I say get thee to “Ohio” where you will meet an extraordinary posse of young folks. IN addition you will hear their colleagues in the audience who are also on the autism trail yell out support and approval. By the end of the show you will be whooping yourself..
How To Dance In Ohio – Based on the Documentary by Alexandra Shiva, Music by Jacob Yandura, Book and Lyrics by Rebekah Greer Melocik, Directed by Sammi Cannold
Also featured in the cast are Haven Burton, Darlesia Cearcy, Carlos L Encinias, Nick Gaswirth, Melina Kalomasm, Caesar Samayoa, and Cristina Sastre.
Scenic designer Robert Brill, costume designer Sarafina Bush, lighting designer Bradley King. sound designer Connor Wang. Orchestrations are by Bruce Coughlin. Music Direction is by Lily Ling and Scott Rowen. Ava Xiao-Lin Rigelhaupt(she/her) serves as the production’s AutisticCreative Consultant.
Tickets and Performance Schedule:Tickets for “How to Dance in Ohio”are now on sale via Telecharge.com. The ticket range is $39-$179.The regular performance schedule is: Tuesdays, Thursdays, Fridays @ 7pm; Wednesday & Saturdays @ 2pm & 7:30pm; and Sundays @ 3pm. Holiday weeks may vary, check www.howtodanceinohiomusical.com for the most up to date schedules