AISLE SAY San Francisco


by Oliver Goldstick
Based on the book Not Even Wrong: Adventures in Autism by Paul Collins
Directed by Ken Sonkin
Presented by Dragon Productions
Dragon Productions Theatre
2120 Broadway St., Redwood City, CA / (650) 493-2006

Reviewed by Judy Richter

Autism is a difficult diagnosis for parents to accept.

That's true of the parents in Oliver Goldstick's "Wild Boy," presented by Dragon Theatre and based on "Not Even Wrong: Adventures in Autism," a book by Paul Collins.

Since three of the main characters are named after Collins; his wife, Jennifer; and their son, Morgan; one assumes it's based on their real-life experiences.

In the play, when their pediatrician suggests testing that leads to a diagnosis of autism for their toddler son, Paul (Ryan O'Donnell) and Jennifer (Olivia Haas) are in denial at first. Over time, however, they come to realize that Morgan (Johnathan Tierney) is different and that they have to do what they can to help him.

In the meantime, Paul, a writer, is working on a book about Peter, the Wild Boy (Tierney again), an apparently 12-year-old feral boy who actually was found naked and mute in 1725 in a German forest by the man who became England's King George I (John Stephen King).

When he went to England to assume the throne, George brought Peter along and turned him into a pet of sorts even though the boy hated wearing clothes and would rather sleep on the floor than in a bed. Eventually he was sent to live with a farmer and others who looked after Peter until his death in 1785, when he was probably in his 70s.

The play smoothly switches between 18th century and present. The present is more interesting because it's more relevant to what many parents are experiencing as they cope with their child's autism.

Paul and Jennifer never know what to expect from Morgan, especially since he lacks social skills and doesn't speak. The stress strains their marriage.

One of the few people who seems to relate to Morgan on some level is a family friend, Marc (King again), who takes him on outings to give the parents a respite.

Directed by Ken Sonkin, who also designed the sound, the play calls for only seven actors, but all except O'Donnell as Paul and Haas as Jennifer play multiple roles.

The rapid switches in eras are facilitated by Joshua McDermott's versatile set and lighting, along with Brooke Jennings' easily changed costumes.

The athletic Tierney as Morgan and Peter doesn't speak but mostly scrambles about the stage as Peter and remains absorbed in his own world as Morgan.

King plays several other roles besides George I and Marc. Also playing multiple roles are Mary Lou Torre, Isabel Siragusa and Bryan Moriarty. All of them manage to create separate personas for each of their characters.

Running about two hours with one intermission, "The Wild Boy" has an unsettled ending, but it does help one to understand what it means to be different and what it takes to cope with differences.

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