Sometimes miracles don’t look exactly like you imagined they would. The word “miracle” connotes, obviously, something magical, otherworldly and unquestionably positive, but the play by Frank Higgins and running now through March 20 at the Allen County Public Library Auditorium, suggests that a miracle can bring with it, in addition to pleasure, its fair share of pain and emotional complications.
I’ve come to expect this kind of nuanced combination from all for One Productions and director Lauren Nichols. This troupe revels in exploring some of life’s most troubling and complex questions, and in they’re examining autism through the very human and poignant, not to mention funny, story of Eve H u d s o n, her father, Tom, and her devoted teacher, Kate Kingsley. Eve (played wonderfully by the lovely and poised Rebekah Fodrey), is a young teen who appears to suffer from a severe form of autism that has limited her ability to speak. Her successful lawyer father (David Scribner) sent Eve to a boarding school after the death of her mother, and, when the play begins, he is visiting her for the first time in two years. What he witnesses in Kate Kingsley’s classroom could be described as a miracle. After years of silence, Eve can now communicate. She does not speak, but pushes her teacher’s hand around on an alphabet board to spell out her thoughts. Even more miraculous still is the fact that she uses the board (and Kate’s hand) to write poems about her life as an autistic girl. Kate has poured her heart and soul into Eve’s progress, but her history as a teacher is not without controversy. Gradually Tom begins to suspect that Eve’s words and poems are really Kate’s, and that, rather than being given his daughter back, he’s been duped in a most unforgivable and heartbreaking way.
Some of the play’s most touching moments come when the lights dim and both Tom and Kate interact with an Eve they wish were real. The awkward, mute girl who simply paces the stage with a whale puppet undulating in her hand is replaced with a typical teenager, vibrant, witty, full of dreams and the irrepressible sweetness of youth. These are also the moments when Fodrey displays her innate talents as an actress. It was hard as an audience member not to hope just as Tom and Kate do that this Eve will prevail somehow.
This play is not about easy answers or pedantic messages, and thank goodness – and Ms. Nichols – for that. Given that autism is a disease of great mystery, it’s only fitting that Eve’s story likewise be thorny and full of unexpected twists and turns . And while there is the slightest hint that music and faith could be what end up saving us in the end, leaves you pondering for days afterward some of the most essential questions of what it means to love and be human. Maybe that’s the greatest miracle of all.