I’m going to try not to forget that there were heroes in the 2016 U.S. election. One of mine was J.J. Holmes, a 12-year-old boy with cerebral palsy, who made headlines across the United States when he was escorted out of a rally for Donald Trump held in Tampa.
Holmes had begged his mother to take him to the rally so he could protest – which he did using his computer vocalization device, pressing a button to heckle in preprogrammed phrases: “Dump Trump” and “Trump mocks the disabled.” More like cerebral ballsy, that kid.
This is the Point – a new piece of theatre, similarly tough and courageous, written and performed by two couples whose lives are also affected by cerebral palsy – opened on Tuesday night, in the last hours where I was clinging to the hope that most Americans who could be bothered to get off the couch and vote were on the side of Holmes.
One couple are Christina Serra and Dan Watson, who run Ahuri Theatre, a Lecoq-inspired physical theatre company in which they use their bodies as the primary instrument in telling stories. The two have a seven-year-old son named Bruno, who loves swings, enjoys fast car rides and has cerebral palsy. He is unlikely to ever be able to control his body in the virtuosic way his parents do; for a long time, he couldn’t even swallow.
The other couple are Tony Diamanti, a writer and playwright, and Liz MacDougall, a charming craft services worker apparently only reluctantly roped into getting on a stage. Both have cerebral palsy. MacDougall’s motor skills are only slightly impaired by the neurological disorder, while Diamanti uses a motorized wheelchair to move around the stage and speaks, primarily, via a long, metal pointer attached to a headband that he uses to indicate to a letter board.
This is the Point, subtitled “a play about love, sex and disability,” is a series of theatrical encounters involving these two very different pairs of performers; a clash of cultures. There’s plenty of pleasure to be derived from the mix of scenes, monologues, clips from home movies and live interactions – and simply watching bodies not regularly seen on a stage perform.
I’m not just talking about disabled bodies, either. Serra is seven months pregnant at the moment – and, in one scene, makes herself a pickle, potato chip and Nutella sandwich while delivering a monologue. The creation of this monstrous snack provides a comic counterpoint to a story about some of the cruel things people said to her when she went back to work as a music teacher after Bruno was born, such as, “You’re the reason we aren’t having a home birth.”
In another scene, Serra and Watson demonstrate what a typical morning is like in their house – each taking turns playing their son Bruno, as they lift him out of bed, brush his teeth and wrestle him into his clothes. It’s a real delight to watch Watson throw his heavily pregnant wife up over his shoulder like a small child.
Other physical jolts come in two scenes where Diamanti re-enacts traumatic encounters from his life with the help of Watson.
There’s his first, nightmarish sexual experience with a woman, high on acid, who presses a tab into his mouth and then forces herself upon him. The woman frames the whole encounter as an act of compassion – but the horror of it is effectively transmitted to the audience in director Karin Randoja’s production through a well-placed video camera that shows us Diamanti’s perspective, in distorted close-up, on a large screen.
Later, Watson plays a care worker who attacks Diamanti – knocking the headband off his head, throwing his letter board aside and slapping him in the face. Here, it becomes clear that Diamanti is not just an engaging human on a stage, but an extraordinary actor. He gives such a pitch-perfect performance of terror that it’s a relief when, after the scene, he and Watson drop their characters and embrace.
Theatrically, the most fascinating aspect of This is the Point is the different ways the creators have found to have Diamanti speak to the audience. At one point, there is a very funny dialogue between his computer vocalization and his letter board, which appears to the audience in large on a screen. We learn he prefers talking through the board he has had since he was four years old, because he can communicate nuance and passion through his gestures and taps. Besides, no digitized voice sounds like how he imagines his own to be – a cross between De Niro and Pacino.
At one point, Watson supplies him that voice – as Diamanti amusingly attempts to lip sync. Later, the audiences speaks for him, or with him – reading along with his letter board aloud as he tells us about a bittersweet memory of watching The Jungle Book with his now-estranged daughter when she was 4. This was an entirely original theatrical experience for me – watching a monologue, speaking it and being moved by it all at once.
This is the Point unfolds in its own way, at its own pace. But that’s actually what makes this experiment worth seeing, to immerse yourself in a different world of empathy and understanding for a while. This is the (unique selling) point.
This is the Point continues to Nov. 20 (theatrecentre.org).Report Typo/Error