Kennedy Center’s World Premiere of Mockingbird Is a Must See Play for All Ages
Brilliant: very bright, flashing with light; very impressive or successful; extremely intelligent. Moving: having a strong emotional effect, causing feelings of sadness or sympathy. Luminous: clear, enlightening, shining, illustrious. Marvelous: extremely good or enjoyable; causing wonder, astonishing; miraculous, supernatural; of the highest kind or quality, notably superior.
Mockingbird, currently playing at The Kennedy Center’s Family Theater through February 1, 2015 is brilliant, moving, luminous, and marvelous. Julie Jensen’s adaptation of Kathryn Erskine’s National Book award-winning novel, tells the story of Caitlin, an 11 year-old on the autism spectrum, who is used to relying on her older brother to help her make sense of a world beyond dictionaries, schedules, and the facial expressions chart at school. After his tragic death, she is left on her own. With the help of her guidance counselor, her grieving father, and an unlikely friend, Caitlin begins to learn how to relate to people, embrace the messiness of emotions, and use her artistic talents to have a new start. This adaptation of Mockingbird maintains all of the crucial plot points while creating a rich field of discovery for Caitlin and all those whose lives she touches.
“How can any word be more important than ‘Heart’?” pleads Caitlin in one particularly wrenching scene. Under the direction of Tracy Callahan, this Mockingbird not only has heart, it positively soars. Callahan deftly draws out finely nuanced performances from every member of her cast in a fast paced production that truly gives one pause about how it feels to live with autism. Everything – from the set design and lighting to the ensemble actors’ movements and costumes – is carefully crafted to draw the audience into Caitlin’s world and to help us see the world as she sees it.
Mockingbird is a star making turn for Dylan Silver, who plays Caitlin. Every choice she makes in portraying Caitlin is purposeful and right. Silver deftly captures the vibrant and humorous side of coping with loss and living in a world where you just “don’t get it” while leaving plenty of room for the messy emotions that overtake us. She is absolutely mesmerizing and heart-breakingly honest – this is truly a performance to remember.
Maboud Ebrahimzadeh gives a moving portrayal as Dad, wrestling with his own grief while seeking to break through the walls that surround Caitlin. Gabriela Fernandez-Coffey is pitch-perfect as Mrs. Brook, the guidance counselor who annoyingly tries to get Caitlin to talk about her feelings yet is in tune and patient enough to accept Caitlin for who she is, help her find a friend or two, and give her the tools she needs to work through her grief. Aaron Bliden creates a believable and touching first grader as Michael, Caitlin’s unlikely friend.
Susan Lynskey’s Miss Johnson is a chilling reminder of the complications that arise when teacher and student don’t speak the same emotional language. The cast is rounded out by an impressive ensemble — Thony Mena, Tia Shearer, Kathryn Tkel, and Rex Daugherty — who morph believably from adults to fifth graders to first graders, sometimes with only a 15 second break between characters.
Every aspect of Mockingbird is lovingly crafted to bring Caitlin’s story to life. Misha Kachman’s scenic design, combined with Tim Jones’ props design, allows the action to flow from school to recess to home to guidance office, all the while illuminating the world that Caitlin sees by showing it to the audience from her perspective. In particular, Kachman’s unusual placement of items on stage to make spaces look distorted, moveable furniture to create chaos, and unusual visual elements such as a giant black and white hand and multicolored lockers that double as doors all help create a dreamlike effect.
Deb Sivigny’s costumes play a critical role in helping the actors convey who they are in a drop of a hat. She contrasts everyday apparel with extreme exaggerated costume pieces to help the audience see how strange other characters can appear in Caitlin’s mind. Andrew Cissna’s lighting design and Christopher Baine’s sound design help create the world of the autistic mind for the audience. Lauren Joy’s projections literally make Caitlin’s artistic creations and dictionary definitions leap off the page.
Mockingbird offers a finely nuanced look at grief, love, and autism with a hearty dose of laughter mixed with the tears. This five star world premiere from the Kennedy Center and VSA, is not to be missed.
Running Time: Approximately 75 minutes, without an intermission.
Sensory-Friendly performances are available on Saturday, January 24th at 1:30 p.m. and Saturday, January 31st at 11:00 a.m.