One of the great traditions of the Sydney summer is to go to the premiere of latest David Williamson play at our local theatre, the Ensemble. For my overseas readers, David is Australia’s foremost playwright and for the last 17 years the Ensemble has been packed out every summer for his latest play. David Williamson says he is now more psychologist than playwright and trust me when you hear in a play such terms as “mirror neurons” and “neurotypicals” you know you are in for a different evening.
The plot line is simple. Boy meets girl. Boy marries girl. Girl discovers boy has Aspergers. Girl leaves boy. Girl reunites with boy.
What is terrific are the two portrayals by Justin Stewart Cotta as Ryan and Lisa Gormley as Alice. Alice describes herself as a “neurotypical” which is a new term to me. In the Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) community, neurotypical is often used to refer to people who are not on the autism spectrum. It’s a mash-up of the words “neurologically typical” and is often shortened to NT. This is a poor definition as it implies something that is logically inconsistent. If Autism is a spectrum disorder, then everyone falls on the spectrum by definition. It is not a case of black and white but shades of grey. NTs would be on the spectrum but located at the low end of the Autistic spectrum in the same way as someone with Asperger’s is at the high end.
One critic has stated that the only thing he had met who was as infinitely benign, kind, loving and patient as Alice was a dog. In fact Alice is a beautiful example of a Doublechecker. She is ultra-high on the Agreeableness spectrum and full of compassionate empathy. She has the personality to take on the challenge of Ryan and tries to coach Ryan into some vague normality of social behaviour with herself, her friends and her parents. Yet again the quote by Harwood holds true: “Men marry women with the hope they will never change. Women marry men with the hope they will change. Invariably they are both disappointed.”
Justin Stewart Cotta who plays Ryan turns in a performance which could well be the best by a male actor in Sydney for 2017. It is a compelling performance. For those who remember the film, Rainman, Dustin Hoffman as someone suffering from Autism was the defining portrayal. (In passing I have to say that I thought the awarding of the Oscar to Dustin was a mistake; it should have gone to his brother, Tom Cruise.) Williamson alludes to the film in the play. My issue is the much of the behaviour of Ryan is not just Autistic but someone who is also high on the Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder spectrum. Ryan does have a lot of Artist in his temperament but also a lot of Engineer. A great demonstration of this was when Ryan talks about wine. He goes on about his selections in monomaniac detail. Yes, Ryan does not have the affective empathy of Alice but he does have logical empathy. In the play, he is the one person who sees through Alice’s friend, Carla.
Odd Man Out is a fascinating play and I congratulate Williamson and the Ensemble for putting it on. If you can get tickets to see it, do so.
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