SAPIENCE, the new play co-produced between TuYou Theatre and MOXIE Theatre playing through February 20th looks at the insights that occur when your way of communicating and experiencing the world expands. Written by Diana Burbano the play features characters on the autism spectrum, people navigating different languages, and even magical realism as a playful orangutan named Wookie.
Set in a research lab in a zoo, we find Elsa (Mariel León), who is the lead researcher working with Wookie (Nancy Ross) an orangutan who was saved as a small baby from poachers and raised in a series of zoos. She has proven to be a highly intelligent and curious individual, making her perfect for the research Elsa is conducting. Mari (Vanessa Duron) who works cleaning the facility, and her son AJ (Enrique Xavier Martinez) are also related to Elsa. Jason (Alexander Guzman) is in charge of the facility, the research, and the varying personalities within it.
Elsa is on the autism spectrum, and though she can speak clearly, her reactions to things are not always what would be expected as a social norm. Mari’s first language is Spanish, and having come to America later in life learned English later. AJ, like Elsa, is also autistic, but he is technology-oriented, and non-verbal most of the time. But when he is in the lab, he can speak with Wookie the orangutan. Through their interactions, they learn about each other, how to interact with others, and about how different communication methods achieve different results.
León as Elsa is the calm center of the play, with a scientist’s detachment as she assesses what’s happening around her. Sometimes overwhelmed by feelings, or by the feeling that she should be reacting differently but can’t, she is the neutral center between those who are chatty and colorful and those who cannot yet communicate to the rest of the world.
Duron is firey and direct as Mari, and Guzman is fun and flirty and brings a needed dose of levity for the first half of the show. Martinez is sweet as AJand has lovely moments with ross as Wookie.
Ross is truly excellent as Wookie. She is curious, funny, and brings a wonderful physicality to the part. She is a standout and makes all of her scenes, even ones about sad subjects delightful to watch.
Scenic design by Adam Parrocha makes the research lab come to life, and it includes a red light that goes off for any upcoming sounds that may be upsetting to anyone who has sensitivities processing sounds, and sound design is by Mason Pilevsky . Lighting by Colby Freel keeps the red light from distracting, with lighting that is designed without bright lights, as well as working well with the events of the play. Samantha Ginn, who specializes in teaching theatre to neurodiverse performers, is the productions inclusion specialist.
Directed by Duron the performers are all polished and blend well given the varying styles each character brings with them.
Ultimately, the play feels a bit unbalanced as the character arcs vary wildly. Some feel earned, some rushed, some are out of the blue, and some don’t change at all. For as connected as the characters are, and as good as the performances are, the story doesn’t feel like it’s all that connected itself.
How to get tickets
Proof of full vaccination is required or negative test result from a COVID-19 PCR test taken within 72 hours of showtime. Masks are required at all times.
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