Outstanding New Musical About a Boy with Autism

autism musical


Lately, many stories of individuals living with autism have been making the transition towards theater. Books like The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Nighttime, a novel by Mark Haddon, has become a popular Broadway Play using grids and electronic drizzle to represent the active mind of an autistic teenager. But there is still so much we don’t know or have yet to discover about how autistics view the world.

Max Understood is a play about a 7 year old autistic boy whose world is comprised of objects and sounds from noises, music, filmed projections, and an onstage moving landscape. It’s unknown how much of the play is actually an accurate depiction of the autistic perspective.

However, the parents’ struggle and determination for their child is the true heart of the play’s storyline. Michael Rasbury, an Assistant Professor at the University of Virginia, is the author, sound designer, and a composer for the play. He loosely based the main character off of his experiences with his autistic son, also named Max. One part of the play, which is particularly striking visually, involves his son’s fixation with power lines. He even uses Google Earth’s satellite view to memorize its locations in relation to streets.

In the play, the main character repeatedly watches the movie The Wizard of Oz. Other viewers may focus on Dorothy or her friends, but Max’s eyes are drawn to the yellow bricks. Rasbury strategically lays of a projection of power line grids over the yellow brick road that leads to the Wizard.

He also includes other experiences such as Max’s repetitive speech behaviors, wherein he recites phrases from books or commercials. In the play the boy has an interactive toy that provides information about all 43 US Presidents. Later, Max lists all the facts he’s memorized, often at unexpected times in a conversation. This impressive recitation ability is a common characteristic many autistic kids are known to have.

At the start of the play we see Max flapping his hands and yelling in response to the constant neighborhood noises just outside his window. However, once those noises stop he starts to create his own sounds which causes his parents to become distracted.

The plays creator’s Rasbury and Nancy Carlin have been working on its production since 2007. It has reached the Eugene O’Neill Theater Center in Waterford, Connecticut and the New York Musical Theatre Festival, after wrapping up its last show at the Cowell Theatre at Fort Mason Center in San Francisco. They hope the audience sees the play’s portrayal of isolation that autistic kids and their parents go through.

Click here to view the original feature from Newsweek that this article is based on.

Written by Raiza Belarmino

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