On Friday, April 13, Maryville College senior Jennings Kelley, and Alpha Psi Omega, Maryville College’s Theatre Honors Society, opened their production of “The Other Room,” written by Ariadne Blayne, in the Haslam Family Flexible Theater.
The play focuses on the mind of an autistic teenager, Austin, played by freshman Christopher Rodriguez, while he has an interaction with another student, Lily, played by freshman Haylee Wilson.
On the right side of the stage on top of a large painted puzzle piece, were the ensemble of characters representing parts of Austin’s mind. Sporting glasses and a bow tie and representing logic was Donovan, played by freshman Blake Shepard. Representing the more romantic logic was Christian, played by sophomore PJ Donovan. The two would wildly debate on stage while the larger-than-life Cameron Freshour played the enthusiastic intrinsically focused part of Austin’s mind. Maryville Junior High School student Dionysi Siospi played Nick, who was focused on Austin’s reactions to other people.
In a panel following the show, the actors on the right side stressed that they were not representing different personalities, but different thought processes and ways of dealing with stimulus.
The left side of the stage was a classroom where the conversation between Austin and Lily takes place. The two discuss physics and the stars while Austin’s mind breaks down the interaction. As Lily gets closer to Austin, his mind begins to process feelings of human connection. The bond the two form in a short time makes a drastic difference in the changes in character on the right side of the stage. With wonderful coordination between the right side and Austin, the stage became a full representation of his mind and action.
The show tackles tough issues, such as the way in which people with autism are treated and valued. Austin, who is obviously smart, faces difficulty communicating himself to Lily. However, Lily stays by his side. Her character’s unbridled compassion still proved to not be enough to fully understand Austin.
The one act ends when Lily touches Austin’s face, crossing one of his boundaries. In an uncontrollable fit, he pushes Lily into a desk, busting her lip.
Despite this, Lily still tries to protect Austin from jock boyfriend Travis, played by Maryville College alumni Matt Lyscas ‘14.
The show is a beautifully told story of human compassion and understanding. In the panel, Kelley shared the story of her younger family member with autism who inspired her to do this show. Kelley’s mother also works in special education making this something that’s always been close to her heart.
“I loved it,” said sophomore audience member Lyndsey Lively. “I was really surprised by how much I loved it. I especially enjoyed the panel at the end, and I think it really added something. In summation, I dug it dude.”
The show ran from Friday April 13, to Sunday April 16, and was part of Jennings Kelley’s senior thesis.