Newspaper article Sarasota Herald Tribune

Altering Ideas on Autism

Newspaper article Sarasota Herald Tribune

Altering Ideas on Autism

Article excerpt

Mark St. Germain has focused much of career as a playwright fashioning compelling stories about real people or historic events.

He's had tremendous success with such shows as "Camping with Henry and Tom" (about Henry Ford and Thomas Edison); "Freud's Last Session," about a meeting between a dying Sigmund Freud and British writer C.S. Lewis; "Becoming Dr. Ruth," about sex therapist Dr. Ruth Westheimer; and "Best of Enemies," about the unlikely friendship that developed between a one-time leader of the Ku Klux Klan and a black activist.

The last three of those shows were big hits at Florida Studio Theatre, where his new romantic drama "Dancing Lessons" is now having a successful and highly praised run.

St. Germain returned to Sarasota last week to take part in an often fascinating panel dealing with themes of the play, which is about a dancer whose leg injury may force her to change careers, and a high-functioning autistic man who asks her to teach him to dance for a banquet in his honor.

Senga Quinn and Ever Montgomery are both damaged, and how they dance around and with each other is part of the emotional charm in St. Germain's script and Kate Alexander's production. It features an impressive performance by Jason Cannon as Ever and an often disarming Vanessa Morosco as Senga. The play runs through Feb. 27 in FST's Keating Theatre.

Tuesday's panel focused on the realities and misconceptions of autism, the varied ways it affects people and public perceptions of the brain disorder, which are often more problematic than the disorder itself.

Those in the autism community have apparently embraced the play, in part because St. Germain did his homework.

The playwright said he does a lot of research about his historical subjects and that after a while "you come to the point that you want to write something related to that." He tries to create dialogue that is honest, even if it's not a direct quote, something that the characters could have or might have said.

It was no different with "Dancing Lessons." He was cognizant of concerns that the play could have raised depending on how the script portrayed the character of Ever.

Cannon clearly did his own homework to prepare for the role. …

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