Writers Allison Cameron Grey and Matt Chorpening have created a wonderful and heartwarming stage version of the original novel by Terry Trueman that uses the first person commentary of Shawn, a teenage boy with cerebral palsy. A unique, stylized direction makes the play to be a series of fast paced vignettes, quickly adjusted, to represent the various scenes and settings that Shawn is going through and it was all cleverly directed by David P. Johnson.
What’s unique is that Shawn’s only venue of expression is the audience. He speaks to the audience and explains his feelings, frustrations, hurts and even his passions and desires along with his fears, popping in and out of his wheelchair. Artfully done and often interactively involved with the audience is Jonathan D. Black playing Shawn McDaniel. His sincerity and comic abilities make the somewhat disheartening condition of his disability more realistic and touching. Jonathan has a range of emotion and plays the disability and seizures that he has with a visceral realism.
Supporting him since his birth is his ever compassionate and always hopeful mother, Mary Carrig, played by Lindy McDaniel. Mary shows amazing restraint, love and deep concern for her son’s well being and comfort. Even her anger toward her husband is amazingly real and true to life. Mary seems to really show the enormous weight that is put on any caregiver when trying to make someone comfortable in their situation.
As much of a support as Shawn’s mother is, the same kind of gentle, friendly and inclusiveness comes from Shawn’s sister Cindy McDaniel played passionately by Amy Greenspan. Amy plays the sister to the hilt of reality. Having a younger disabled brother and an egocentric and sometimes obnoxious older brother, Amy is often the coach, referee and general console for the family. Amy shows a real meaningful side in a realistic way of being the older sister of a disabled brother. which is a little harder to deal with day by day.But she gets just as much love and attention as is needed for the entire family and support is genuine.
Tommy Cramer plays Paul MacDaniel, the oldest kid in the family and often the overzealous jock that expresses his full emotions whether appropriate or not. Tommy does a real nice job in, not only expressing opinions about their father, but showing real concern and care for his disabled brother to whom he truly loves.
The father, we learn, has another agenda. He cannot deal with his son’s disability and doesn't seem to understand the rest of his family. As a result, he divorces his wife and the commentary that Jonathan gives throughout is amazingly heartfelt. The father Syd McDaniel is played by David Michael Trevino who makes an honest effort to play an obviously fear-driven father. However, he finds a way to make money off his son’s condition.
Another standout performance came from John Walcutt playing a father and a convicted killer. A man who killed his own son because he believed he was suffering. John does an amazing job in a few short minutes portraying the character of a man who feels horrible about what he did but also feels there was nothing else for him to do regarding his child.
There is a new friend of the sister who is more than welcoming of Shawn’s condition and embraces both the family and disability. The sincerity and sincere appreciation was marvelously portrayed by Swati Kapila playing Alley, a new person in the family. Sawti is amazing to watch and extremely supportive and concerned throughout.
Another bright moment occurs when talk show host Alice Ponds takes the stage and challenges Shawn’s father with his own daughter debating the case. This wonderful performance comes from Leslie Thurston who could give Oprah a run for her money!
For me, overall the play was extremely thought provoking, educational and enlightening. I learned the dynamics, even if a theatrical representation of it, of a family dealing with the mixed emotions in dealing with a family member with a severe disability. It will make you feel, smile, laugh and you might shed a tear or two. I applaud the writers for this extremely provocative work and the cast, especially Jonathan and Mary, for doing an impressive display of passion. This one should be seen by your whole family. This is a good commentary on society and life itself. Bravo cast and crew! Check them out at The Secret Rose Theatre in North Hollywood!