Review By Bella Thompson
Delivering exactly as advertised, ‘The Aspie Hour’ was just over one hour of two performers sharing exactly what it’s like to live life on the Autism Spectrum, - with, of course, copious musical numbers and a handful of confetti.
The two sections are delivered separately by the creator/writer/performer duo – but of course featuring some excellent opening and closing duets to bookend the performance. While they work well together, both of the artists are able to hold the otherwise mostly empty stage on their own, delivering their own scenes with such ownership that it could easily be a one-man or woman show in its own right. The intensity of the performers themselves could easily be matched by their fellow musical theatre die-hards in attendance, showing once again that the theatre is a safe space for slightly off-centre hyper fixations.
Ryan Smedley begins with his story, recounting his adventures in his ‘spirit home of musical theatre’ – New York City. With such eloquence Smedley steps us through his time in the Big Apple, not refraining from sharing the less than spectacular parts, like how he accidentally screamed when he ran into a high school drama teacher, or the time he made out with a handsome stranger in a darkened park. Although the delivery was rather stiff, Smedley managed to carry it off by mixing his slightly proper and disciplined demeanour with an enthusiasm for the sparkling lights of the musical theatre world that turned what could have been perceived as austere into a charming and lovable character.
Sophie Smyth brought her own vivacity in her autobiographical ‘mini musical’ beginning from her life as a child, to her discovery of ‘Wicked’ (her gateway drug) to her struggles with depression (featuring black confetti, you know, to keep it light). Despite some somewhat somber topic matters (see; the black confetti), Smyth maintains such brightness both vocally and in her movement that makes it hard to think that anything could keep her down for very long before she rises up like every good leading lady to determine the next chapter in her own narrative. As there was no official Lighting Designer it was noticeable that there was no real coherent vision for the lighting of the show – a shame particularly when there is so little physically onstage. Even so, a handful of the lighting states were undeniably lovely and made the performers’ eyes (especially Smyth’s enormous blues) sparkle brighter, especially when they talked about the Tony awards. It was heartwarming.
With not one piece of set and the intimate nature of the content, the show would have been perfect for a small venue, but that would never have allowed the packed house of audience members to laugh at every joke about misread social cues and musical theatre reference squeezed into the one act. I’m quite sure I disturbed the poor woman sitting next to me with my own raucous laughter.
Starring the musical direction of ‘minor character and one-man orchestra’ Rainer Pollard, the original songs and tweaked renditions of musical theatre staples, the songs brought the show together and kept the narrative flowing smoothly between them and several short monologues. Smyth’s songs are as bouncy as she is; full of the playful passion that drives her input to the performance, and the theatre conventions she plays into or ignores as her heart desires. Smedley’s numbers vary slightly more while still matching the theme, but as he continues to sing the audience begins to understand his need to tell these stories – “I needed an outlet, some way to get it all out. So I wrote songs.”
The show is about Asperger’s – which I’m sure you can tell from the title (or if you can’t it’s mentioned at least once a number) – but it’s about so much more than that. Smedley and Smyth pour their hearts into their work and it’s clear that the audience can feel that throughout the entire piece. The show is about discovering yourself an unfamiliar city, unrelenting passions, and self-assertion. And of course, the one thing that connects us all: mutual adoration of Stephen Sondheim’s original 1981 production of Merrily We Roll Along.
Part cabaret, part casual Ted-Talk, ‘The Aspie Hour’ not only had everyone in the house cackling with laughter but gave an important insight into the lives of two people step-ball-changing their way along the Spectrum.
All opinions and thoughts expressed within reviews on Theatre Travels are those of the writer and not of the company at large.