Beyond developmental disorders like those that exist on the autism spectrum are people with dreams hopes and aspirations – despite their limitations.
Drumming this point home in a cautiously humorous yet humane way is the production Odd Man Out, that opens at the Theatre on the Square in Sandton this month.
An Australian piece at its genesis, the production will be given a new lease on life by a local cast and crew under the direction of Megan Willson.
Penned by prolific Australian playwright David Williamson, the production tells of Alice and Ryan, who meet on a bus and are quickly drawn to each other.
They have little in common except for a shared desperation to couple up.
Alice is sensitive about her biological clock running out of time, and Ryan is fearful of loneliness. They work hard to create a union, and in Odd Man Out, it seems tough grind is the key to success.
Alice marries the straight-talking Ryan but soon discovers he has autism spectrum disorder (Asperger syndrome).
Willson explained that for her the process of getting people to take on these roles was fairly easy.
“I’ve worked with this group of performers for many years. They’re smart and intuitive actors who are brilliant at comedy, while still moving audiences with their delicate and considered choices,” she said.
The cast comprises Daniel Janks, Ashleigh Harvey, Michéle Levin, and Russel Savadier. The lighting is designed by Denis Hutchinson and the set by Willson.
After playing to a season of rave reviews at the theatre, Janks, who plays the main character Ryan, has been nominated for a Naledi Theatre Award for his portrayal. This emphasises that they managed to tell the story in a way that’s empathetic and thought-provoking.
On how the play discussed autism spectrum disorder, Willson said it aimed to interrogate “normal”.
“The play asks us to question “what is normal?” because, in fact, all the characters are a little offbeat.
“It peels away the layers of what society deems to be ‘normal’ and challenges us to look at the world and people a little more empathetically.
“It’s a fascinating journey which will certainly increase your knowledge and provide you with unique insights into all of us who live with disorders,” she said.
While the play carries fairly universal themes of love and empathy, Willson and the team made some effort to ensure that the local version is recognisable. The story is set in Cape Town, and the characters are recognisably South African.
On what people coming to see the production can expect, Willson said: “This is a fantastic night in the theatre with outstanding performances. It’s laugh-out-loud funny, warm, gentle and utterly engaging.
“We had people return for a second and third time in the first run, because it is just such a beautifully crafted piece of work.”
Odd Man Out will run at the Theatre on the Square in the Mandela Square Sandton from April 30 to May 25. Visit Computicket or the Theatre’s website.