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Inside I

a Puppet Show
by Michael Haverty and Erwin Maas

VENUE : 7 Stages [WEBSITE]
ID# 4888

SHOWING : April 21, 2016 - May 08, 2016



Episodes of life and dreams, from birth to age 18, of a boy on the autistic spectrum and his obsession with, and escape into, the world of video. Visual spectacle, puppets, performers and live-feed cameras give voice and image to the spectrum’s unheard and unseen effects. "Inside I" is written and directed by Michael Haverty and Erwin Maas.

Each performance of "Inside I" will open with "I Direct Myself," a 15-minute play written and performed by Sam Gross. Gross, who is on the autistic spectrum, has worked with 7 Stages for many years and was as inspired by Haverty’s production as Haverty was with Gross. Gross worked with 7 Stages staff and teaching artists over the last year to create this short play that sets out to communicate to the world that he is in control of his life and fully aware of his circumstances.

Director Michael Haverty
Ben Matt Baum
Sophia, Principal Tera Buerkle
Ben’s Father, Grocery Clerk Luis Hernandez
Sophia’s Dad, Doctor Jeffery Zwartjes
Click to Submit Cast & Crew Info for this production


by playgoer
Saturday, April 23, 2016
"Inside I" purports to show the experience of autism for a single individual. Ben has problems processing contradictory sensory input, is obsessed with video cameras, and gets bullied. We see various experiences as his life progresses through three progressively (slightly) larger puppets, each of which is equipped with a video camera. The video feed is shown to the audience variously on three video screens and projections on the wall (and on a giant brain-like blob of wrinkled paper that occasionally descends from the ceiling). It’s all very clever and well-coordinated with Ben Coleman’s generally somber score and the actions of the actors, but it’s also very boring. The experiences are fairly ordinary, everyday events, all performed at a glacial pace.

Russ Vick’s puppets (Ben and his school "friend" Sophia) are nicely constructed and articulated, allowing fairly natural movements as teams of actors move them. They’re puppets, though, so they have fixed facial expressions. Matt Baum (as Ben’s voice) and Tera Buerkle (as Sophia’s) do nice jobs of providing a variety of vocal expressions, but there’s not a lot of dialogue in the piece. It’s mostly musical soundscape or silence.

Reay Kaplan, as Ben’s mother, and Jeffrey Zwartjes, as Sophia’s father, interact as humans with their puppet children. They do nice work too. Luis Hernandez, who appears briefly in human form as a highly stylized grocery clerk, is otherwise relegated to puppet movement and voice work as Ben’s father. The cast can’t be faulted in any way.

Michael Haverty and Erwin Maas, the creators and directors of the show, have obviously put a lot of work into coordinating the technical aspects of the production, from Jeanette Oi-Suk Yew’s ever-present video design to Jamie Bullins’ unobtrusive costume design to Melisa DuBois’ nifty puppet-sized props to Rebecca Makus’ lighting design, which makes use of handheld lights for its most impressive effects. It’s technically complex, but hardly effective as a piece of theatre.

Much better, in comparison, is the companion piece, Samuel Joseph Gross’ "I Direct Myself." Mr. Gross is a young man on the autism spectrum, and he presents his life story through anecdote and song, ably assisted by the musically gifted Anna G. Richardson and Jeff Drummond. Drawings, animated by Jessica Caldas and unfortunately not designed to show up brightly when projected on a black wall, accompany most portions of the story. It goes by in a breezy 15 minutes. ("Inside I" covers an equivalent time period in Ben’s life story, but takes 90 intermissionless minutes to do so.)

"Inside I" and "I Direct Myself" provide two perspectives on life with autism. As the director’s note states, autistic symptoms "are completely different for everyone on the Spectrum." Boring us with Ben’s story doesn’t prove much. The bullying Ben experiences is the dramatic highpoint of his story, but it’s not different from the bullying anyone "different" might experience in school. Maybe the reactions of Ben to the bullying are intended to show a uniquely autistic perspective, but they’re so stylized that they don’t clarify anything about the autistic experience.

Everybody with autism is different. There, I said it in five words. "Inside I" takes an hour and a half to show us the experiences of a single autistic individual, completely contradicting the warning in the director’s note and showing us a single, tightly focused perspective. Only the inclusion of "I Direct Myself" provides an alternate view. Without it, "Inside I" would be a meaningless exploration of puppetry and video techniques. [POST A COMMENT REGARDING THIS REVIEW]


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