“A” Train: The Play, an original play written and performed by Anne Torsiglieri, is an excellent work, exploring a modern mom’s experience of autism. PlayMakers Repertory Company’s PRC2 second-stage production of this one-woman show zips along for an engrossing 90 minutes, full of stops and turns and the occasional unexpected jolt — not unlike the subway for which the show is playfully named.
The simple set — featuring a few massive I-beams and yellow floor strips to simulate a New York City subway station, as well as a chair, artist’s easel, and a projection of that art onto the back wall — keeps your focus on the storyteller, which is exactly where it should be. This is a story that deserves every minute of your attention.
Film, television, and Broadway veteran Anne Torsiglieri knows exactly how to capture the audience from the first few lines, and her gripping performance never lets them go. She’s mother of twin boys, one who developed in a traditional manner and one who developed autism as a toddler. Anne takes the audience along her journey, and she doesn’t skip any “stops” along the way.
The subway theme is utilized in a playful manner, as sound cue announcements of upcoming stations are both amusing and poignant, and guide the first half of the story arc. The performance itself, part musical, part stand-up comedy, pushes right past the Fourth Wall and speaks directly to the audience. With incredible bravery and unflinching honesty, Torsiglieri reveals the heights, the depths, the agonies, and the victories of a battle with one of the most rapidly increasing and perplexing medical issues of our modern age.
But Anne Torsiglieri is not here just to tell her story; with Michael Klaers’ clever use of light and sound cues, she also embodies several other “characters” that she has experienced along the way. By modulating her voice, accent, physicality, and even shifting her costume in slight but effective ways, Torsiglieri brings a multitude of other voices into the discussion.
These individuals run the gamut, from other mothers of autistic children and their various attitudes, to people with autism themselves who wish to be heard, and sometimes to people who represent an entire ideology or school of thought regarding the subject. Torsiglieri tackles them all, weaving a wide spectrum (verbiage intended) of insights and arguments on the subject of autism.
And what a subject it is. In this day of incredible medical achievements, the growing need to understand the nature of autism is reaching a fever pitch. What makes this play so engrossing is the way in which it ruthlessly examines all sides of the matter, while giving each side a humanity that brings the debate out of the chaos of media talking points and Internet trolls, and right into the hearts and minds of the audience. With the use of Brad Carroll’s music, movement, and a delightfully witty repartee, Anne Torsiglieri shows myriad sides of the issue by telling their proponents’ stories from within, revealing the emotional viscera behind each viewpoint in a way that is deeply moving.
If I had to be picky, I would note that on occasion, the music distracted more than it added to the narrative; but even that sentiment faded during the last song, which delivered all the emotional punch one could ask for. Similarly, a key phrase that is utilized throughout the play is not explained until near the end of the show, at which point it becomes intensely poignant, but came off as a bit confusing earlier on.
It is the highest goal of theater to take the stories of what makes us human and share them in an intrinsic way that moves an audience to be a bit more compassionate towards their fellows. Anne Torsiglieri’s charisma, talent, and unflinching personal bravery, under the adept direction of Risa Brainin, does exactly that. “A” Train: The Play is an excellent and timely show for anyone who has experience with autism, as well as anyone else who wants to deepen their understanding of this mystifying malady. It is an absolute must-see show in my opinion.
SECOND OPINION: April 24th Raleigh, NC Triangle Review preview by Robert W. McDowell: http://triangleartsandentertainment.org/2018/04/anne-torsiglieris-a-train-at-playmakers-rep-chronicles-her-own-wild-ride-on-the-autism-train/.)
PlayMakers Repertory Company presents “A” TRAIN: THE PLAY, written and performed by Anne Torsiglieri, at 7:30 p.m. April 27 and 28 and 2 and 7:30 p.m. April 29 in the Elizabeth Price Kenan Theatre in the Joan H. Gillings Center for Dramatic Art, 150 Country Club Rd., Chapel Hill, NC 27514, on the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill campus.
TICKETS: $15 and up.
BOX OFFICE: 919-962-PLAY, firstname.lastname@example.org, or https://tickets.playmakersrep.org/.
GROUP RATES (15+ tickets): 919-962-PLAY (7529), email@example.com, or http://www.playmakersrep.org/box-office/groups-and-special-events/.
SHOW: http://playmakersrep.org/show/a-train/ and https://www.facebook.com/events/197214064222730/.
2017-18 SEASON: https://playmakersrep.org/season/2017-2018-season/
PRESENTER: http://www.playmakersrep.org/, https://www.facebook.com/playmakersrep, https://twitter.com/playmakersrep, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/PlayMakers_Repertory_Company, and http://www.youtube.com/user/PlayMakersRep.
PRC BLOG (Page to Stage): http://playmakersrep.blogspot.com/.
PARENTAL ADVISORY: On its website, PlayMakers Rep writes, “Due to mature language, we recommend this show for ages 15 and up (emphasis added).”
NOTE: All shows are wheelchair accessible, and assistive-listening devices will be available at all performances.
“A” Train: The Play (play): https://www.atraintheplay.com/ (official website) and https://www.facebook.com/atraintheplay (Facebook page).
Anne Torsiglieri (Santa Barbara, CA playwright/performer): http://playmakersrep.org/artists/anne-torsiglieri/ (PlayMakers Rep bio), https://www.atraintheplay.com/the-team.html (play’s website bio), http://www.theaterdance.ucsb.edu/people/anne-torsiglieri (UC Santa Barbara Department of Theater and Dance bio), https://www.ibdb.com/broadway-cast-staff/anne-torsiglieri-69633 (Internet Broadway Database), https://www.imdb.com/name/nm0868986/ (Internet Movie Database), and https://www.facebook.com/annie.torsiglieri (Facebook page).
Risa Brainin (Santa Barbara, CA director): http://www.risabrainin.com/ (official website), http://playmakersrep.org/artists/risa-brainin/ (PlayMakers Rep bio), https://www.atraintheplay.com/the-team.html (play’s website bio), http://www.theaterdance.ucsb.edu/people/risa-brainin (UC Santa Barbara Department of Theater and Dance bio), and https://www.facebook.com/risa.brainin (Facebook page).
Brad Carroll (Halcyon, CA composer): http://playmakersrep.org/artists/brad-carroll/ (PlayMakers Rep bio), https://www.atraintheplay.com/the-team.html (play’s website bio), http://www.pcpa.org/bios/bradcarroll.html (Pacific Conservatory Theatre bio), https://www.imdb.com/name/nm1606600/ (Internet Movie Database), and https://www.facebook.com/brad.carroll.520 (Facebook page).
Melanie Simmons of Cary, NC is a film and stage actress with a BA degree in Theatre from Point Loma Nazarene University in San Diego, CA. She also studied dance at San Diego Mesa College and acting with Sande Shurin Acting Studios in New York City and at The Actor’s Workshop in Los Angeles, CA. She has performed locally at the Holly Springs Cultural Center in Holly Springs, Sonorous Road Theatre & Film Studio in Raleigh, and the Cary Playwrights’ Forum in Cary. Click here to read her reviews for Triangle Review and Triangle Arts and Entertainment.