The importance of achieving balance
May 21, 2007 - 03:10.
I’ve just had one of those weekends that help to define life balance: time with family (my sister Kate from Kansas City) and friends (including college buddy Curt, who I seem to run into about every 10 years), walking the dog, a few thoughts about work, a few chores around the house, one night of comedy and clubbing, one theater evening, good, healthy food, and strong black coffee with the New York Times.
Balance is when you feel both confident and challenged…both relaxed and alert…both informed and entertained. It’s when you get enough done to feel productive, and have enough fun to feel grateful. Balance is making sure your family and friends know you love them and still taking time for yourself.
And then something happens—something unexpected—and it’s bye-bye to balance for a while. Such was the theme of the play I saw tonight at Illusion Theater: Stacey Dinner-Levin’s Autistic License.
My friend Jodi and I almost didn’t go. We were tired and we both had work to do. But our shared commitment to support local theater won out, so downtownward we went from our respective comfy couches in the suburbs. Catching up over tapas and sangrias at Solera, we nearly forgot the time and arrived at one minute to curtain. Still got hugs from Illusion founders Michael Robins and Bonnie Morris en route to our seats. (Add that to the reasons why I prefer smaller theaters to the megastages.)
Autistic License is about what it’s like to parent a child who has autism. I wondered if the topic might be too serious or too steeped in medical references for us to enjoy it, but I shouldn’t have worried. There were moments of laughter, and while we heard a sniffle or two from the audience, we didn’t feel overwhelmed by the more sobering parts: among them, the discovery that this was not a “typical” child; the marital strife between the parents; the lack of empathy from parents whose kids fit developmental norms.
I give Dinner-Levin huge credit for balancing humor and terror—as in the scene where the autistic child is found walking down a highway entrance ramp and is identified by virtue of a fez that he is wearing, which he believes renders him invisible. This is a scene from the playwrite’s real life. Her husband, Michael Paul Levin, plays their autistic son. (I’m glad I didn’t realize that until after the show, or I would have been a puddle on the floor.)
While my sister was here, we talked movies. Kate had rented United 93 (about the passengers who forced a hijacked plane to crash in Pennyslvania on 9/11) and was impressed by the director’s decision to avoid drawing the viewer into personal relationships with the passengers. The crash itself, and the final phone calls from passengers to loved ones, were emotionally wrenching enough without that, she said.
I feel the same way about Autistic License. We were shown just enough of the family strife to feel sympathy, yet spared the full force of their frustration—thankfully, because with less than two hours of processing time, we couldn’t possibly have mustered the mother-love to balance out the fury. For that level of sophistication, Dinner-Levin credits astute editing by director Peter Moore, who took out whole scenes of the play. We got joy and we got pain, and judging from the number of people who stayed after the play for Q&A, we didn’t get exhausted in the process. Balance achieved.