REVIEW: Newton’s Cradle

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Music & Lyrics by Heath Saunders

Book & Additional Lyrics by Kim Saunders

Directed by Victoria Clark

Choreographed and Associate Directed by Sara Brians

 

THE VERDICT:

Up front, I’ll tell you one of the fastest ways to make me irredeemably angry at a piece of theater–when a character with mental illness or disability is used as a prop. An emotional crutch and sounding board for other, “normal” characters. A springboard for self-serving melodrama.

And on that note, oh gosh. Oh man. How wonderful it is to see a show like “Newton’s Cradle” soar way, way above stereotype and dismissal.

“Newton’s Cradle” follows the intricately woven trajectory of Evan–a twentysomething who is autistic. He’s also opinionated, funny as all get out, and wants things anyone else would want–duh, ‘cause he’s a human, you know. Not only is the story uncondescending towards Evan–through Evan’s eyes we see the family and connections around him, all in his family’s vacation cabin-away-from-home in Arkansas. They love Evan–but it’s hard to know how to love him, and harder still sometimes to be loved in return.  

The end result is a kaleidoscopic, charming, funny and often mesmerizing new musical, unafraid to be quiet, and richly textured with a subtle score that feels seamlessly woven with book scenes, dance, and instrumental moments. The experience can be hard to follow–Evan’s mind is anything but a straight line, and while we get to witness the unique geometry of his vision, sometimes the effect is disorienting–the show flies acrobatically but doesn’t always stick the landing. But what a flight to watch. Come for the joy, stay for the croquet history.

 

Here’s your point-by-point on what stood out:

  • I don’t understand how Zach Blane managed to squeeze that much magic out of this light plot. Wonderful uses of color and angles.
  • The cast is excellent–it feels as if they’ve been running this show for months. Particular nods go to:
    • Trent Saunders, as Michael, Evan’s brother. We see the nuanced love that happens when you have to take care of your older brother when you’re the younger one. Grounded and measured performance.
    • Rachel Kara Perez, as Charlie, Evan’s girlfriend. Very funny, tender. She has such a grasp on how a noble person chooses to decide how her world looks.
    • And absolutely, Heath Saunders, as Evan. Genuinely witty and heartwarming, textured performance, with no sense of self-judgement towards anyone with Autism. A remarkable actor.
  • Sara Brians’ choreography has hints of modern dance and a strong sense of making much feelings from understated movement.
  • Likewise, Victoria Clark directs the show with finesse. I’m impressed by how much mental work she manages to put the audience through–to call the staging and setup “complex” is a grand understatement.

 

WHAT IT’LL GET NOMINATED FOR:

  • OUTSTANDING SCENIC DESIGN.
  • OUTSTANDING BOOK.
  • OUTSTANDING ACTORS: For Trent Saunders and Heath Saunders.
  • OUTSTANDING FEATURED ACTRESS: For Rachel Kara Perez.
  • OUTSTANDING MUSIC.
  • OUTSTANDING ORCHESTRATIONS.
  • OUTSTANDING DIRECTION.
  • OUTSTANDING CHOREOGRAPHY.

 

WHERE IT’LL GO:

In case you can’t tell by the nominations section above this section, I think this show will do well come awards time at the end of this NYMF season. I have many thoughts about ways this show could go, but the only real overarching thought I want to share is the nature of Evan’s mindscape. This’ll likely make more sense after seeing the show, but we sometimes are a page behind understanding where in time we are in “Newton’s Cradle,” or what scenes are real, which are simultaneous, and so on. It can be convoluted. It never drove me out of the show, but considering how keenly the show understands the nuances of Evan’s beautiful mind, it might be nice for the audience to feel on the same page by the end as well. Don’t get me wrong, some disorientation is a wonderful way into this world–but some clarity would make this show feel more gripping and real.

That said, somebody pick this show up for a commercial run. (Go on. I’ll wait.)

For more information, visit: http://www.nymf.org/festival/2016-events/newtonscradle/

 

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