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AN ARRESTING PRODUCTION OF “MAX UNDERSTOOD”

Nancy Carlin and Michael Rasbury along with the Fort Mason Center and the Behavioral Intervention for Autism  are presenting a striking production of “Max Understood” running only until April 26 at the Cowell Theatre in Ft. Mason.

The plot centers on Max, a fifth grader boy with autism, and his parents, who are struggling to connect with their son. The opening scene shows young self-assured Max isolated in a glaring spot light and then suddenly the audience hears a phone, a car alarm, passing cars , a distance leaf blower and ringer joining in a Noise Symphony. Max’s right arm begins to tremor hysterically, his face grimaces and then his body and he begins to scream.

Max escapes to the outside world much to the consternation of his parents.  We are then shown the adventure of the boy finally exploring the outside world, but experiencing it with the symbols and images of the fascinations shaping his world. It becomes a Wizard of Oz like fantasy world. He sees a woman Peg (Hayley Lovgren) hanging up clothes to dry and suddenly she becomes his favorite toy Pegasus complete with white wings. He see a tough girl Fin (Alyssa Rhoney) who bullied him unexpectedly coming a mermaid and the history-obsessed nerd Albert (Jeremy Kahn) bonds with Max over a shared fascination of American presidents. He meets a gentle, understanding maintenance man (Jackson Davis) who has the distant leaf blower unit.

Hayley Lovgren, Jonah Broscow

The staging by Alexander V. Nichols is very interesting with smart uses of props and set elements for multiple purposes.  He has designed a giant revolving set which starts as a family living room and then revolves to a steep rake which gorgeously captures the projections by Micah J. Stiegliz.  The director David Schweizer perfectly uses staging skills to terrific effects such as the woman with Pegasus wings or a spontaneous presidential show that features persons walking across the stage with the faces of a president and a fake plastic chest.

The Cast of “Max Understood”

The music by Nancy Carlin and Michael Rasbury is faultlessly well-designed.  There are no show-stopping numbers but it works very well throughout the 75 minute fast pace drama. This is all done by an accompanied installation of invented musical instruments by the Paul Dresher Ensemble. Particularly effective is where the music and sound effects are used to create the discordance that makes us commiserate with the troubled conditions of the protagonist. The singing is skillfully handled under Jennifer Reason’s musical direction to a recorded score. Mary Beth Cavanaugh has devised simple choreography that goes well with the action.

Johan Broscow

Johan Broscow who earlier was the young boy in the 42nd Street Moon production of “Do I Hear a Waltz” gives a superb performance as autistic Max. He captures every credible note of wonder and misperception.  He brings down the house toward the end of the musical drama by his patter-song-recitation of the entire list of presidents and his rendition of the lovely song “Poetry” is exquisite.

Teddy Spencer and Elise Youssef are excellent as the parents. Jeremy Kahn as the obsessive intellectual Albert is outstanding in the role. His energetic “Rushed Up” rap with Jonah on Mount Rushmore is pitch perfect.  Alyssa Rhoney gives a arresting performance as Fin. Hayley Lovgren with her silver tone vocal cords as the formidable Peg is impressive in the role. Jackson Davis makes a charming gardener.

“Max Understood” is a stylish piece of new musical theatre and it offers an absorbing glimpse into the world of autism.  This innovating musical theatre production runs through April 26th at Fort Mason’s Cowell Theatre.  Tickets are available at the door or through City Box Office.  Online at www.cityboxoffice.com and by phone 415-392-4400

Photos by Mark Palmer

 

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