“Self-Injurious Behavior” – Written by Jessica Cavanagh and Directed by Marianne Galloway.
Running September 6 – 28, Fridays & Saturdays at 8PM, Saturdays and Sundays at 2PM
“Self-Injurious Behavior” is a play about the struggles of life with an autistic child. And although one might imagine that is quite enough of a subject for one show it is not only about that. It’s also about love and acceptance, and fear and loss, and hope.
This play was initially developed through a workshop run in the summer of 2018 in Dallas by its writer, lead actress and emerging playwright, Jessica Cavanagh. Cavanagh then took the play to New York for a 12-performance AEA showcase run at Urban Stages in April of 2019. So, suffice it to say, this play about such complex and compounding circumstance and emotions has been well and truly prepared for this L.A. premiere.
This is the playwright Jessica Cavanagh’s actual life story. Her son was diagnosed with autism when he was eight, although it’s clear she knew much earlier that he was different from other children. Cavanagh painstakingly and with vivid, beautiful honesty portrays herself through the most painful time in her life. She opens up herself to us without fear and it is her brutal, gentle honesty that enthrals us.
Struggling with her son’s profound autism alone for most of her marriage to his father, until the toll it took unravelled them, Cavanagh lays no blame. She carefully unfolds their lives for us on stage without judgement or limits. The order of events runs through two timelines simultaneously, one forward and one backward which is such a brilliant way to give us all the hurt and the love and the loss in one short night of excellent theatre.
Because life is never linear, is it? It plays out in circles and hexagons and snakes and ladders.
Cavanagh’s light fills the stage even in the play’s darkest moments. Her work with the young actor who plays her son is so heartbreakingly real and perfectly performed that I shed tears even in their lightest of moments, especially then in fact. When we could see the glimmer of what could have been, the ache only a mother feels, the reminder that we are all born who we are no matter what comes next, and that we had better accept and love ourselves that way.
The rest of the cast is just so impossibly good.
All gifted actors, all chosen so perfectly for their roles as her sisters, friends and her ex-husband, who we think in some ways we should hate but end up strangely understanding. No judging remember. It’s not a simple play. The story is so hard to tell and yet she manages to gift us her joy, her hilarity and her strength as well as her tragedy. There were many moments when you could literally have heard a pin drop in the theatre…bar the sniffing.
Live theatre is a place of magic and healing. Work like this reminds us of that. At its best the theatre can pass lifetimes to us by osmosis and love by recognition.
This play, “Self-Injurious Behavior” is theatre at its utter and complete best. Go for the cause, stay for the genius storytelling. But truly, you must go.
Theatre 68, 5112 Lankershim Blvd. North Hollywood, CA 91601
Jessica Cavanagh, Jude Segrest, Jonathan Brooks, Janie Haddad Tompkins, Jullian Cavanagh, Gisla Stringer, Madison Calhoun and Mitch Lerner
Executive Producers Ronnie Marmo, Joe Mantegna, Bren Rapp
Producer Laura Buchwald & co-producers Kristen and Mark Machiedo