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Brilliant IN A WORD @ Cleveland Public Theatre

Roy Berko

(Member, American Theatre Critics Association & Cleveland Critics Circle)

What are the feelings of a husband and wife when they want to conceive a child, but can’t?  What are the ramifications for that childless family when they are given the opportunity to adopt the “perfect” child?  What is it like when that family becomes aware that their child is autistic?  How do parents cope with a child who screams when he becomes frustrated and doesn’t have the words to express his needs or habitually follows a pattern over and over, such as reading the same book again and again, or can’t socialize with others?  What emotionally happens to that family when that child disappears?

Those are the questions that are dealt with in Lauren Lee’s thoughtfully written and emotionally wrenching IN A WORD.

Beth Wood, the director of Cleveland Public Theatre’s IN A WORD, sets the psychological tone of the play when she states in the program’s “Director’s Notes,” “A moment, a beat, a breath can change us forever.”  She is referring to the disappearance of a young autistic boy from his mother’s car.  But, in reality, Fiona and Guy’s lives have been a series of moments, beats and breaths, just like those instances in everyone else’s lives.

What do people do with life’s instances?  Without knowing it, each experience is logged in the cortex of the brain.  Each is stored, remains, and is sometimes recalled.  In the case of Fiona, we see her storage process as she places a word or a series of words in individual glass mason bottles, screws on the top of each, and places them on shelves.

The playwright uses the bottles as a visual device to show Fiona’s brain in action.  Often in life something stimulates Fiona to fetch a bottle, open it and expose the contents.  As each incident happens, she literally goes through the searching and retrieving process.

Questions arise.  Is the boy alive or dead?  Was he murdered?  Was he kidnapped?  Did he wander off in a haze of confused thoughts?  Will he ever return?  Are Fiona and Guy’s lives better off with him gone?

Watching Fiona expose the stages of psychological trauma, a type of psychological death, is frustrating, disheartening and fascinating.

CPT’s production, under the focused direction of Wood is compelling.  The staging is perfectly paced, keeps the action focused, and is eerily realistic.

The cast is flawless.  Liz Conway as Fiona, takes us on a journey of emotional discovery.  She literally has a nervous breakdown before our eyes.  She is not portraying Fiona, she is Fiona.  No acting here, living Fiona.  Wow!

Matt O’Shea, as the boy, understands the mind and body set of an autistic child.  He, like Conway, becomes the boy, lives the boy, is the boy.  Bravo!

Mark Rabant completes the perfect circle of performers as Guy.  His strong underplay of the husband/father role makes the outward emotional portrayals of Conway and O’Shea’s even more powerful.

Benjamin Gantose and Wood’s fragmented set frames the exact mood needed to parallel both Fiona’s and the boy’s minds.  Gantose’s light design focuses and highlights the action.

IN A WORD is Cleveland Public Theatre’s first production in their affiliation with NNPN (National New Play Network), an organization of theatres dedicated to new theatre.  Rolling World Premieres, a project of NNPN, supports the idea that a play often needs more than one reading or production to fully flesh out storylines and dialogue. Over the course of a year, four different theatres across the US will produce the same play, with the author in attendance to work with each production.

Capsule judgement: IN A WORD is one of the top area presentations of this season.  Anyone who is interested in well written, compelling scripts, directed and performed in an almost not-to-be-believed level of brilliance, has to see IN A WORD.  A standing ovation doesn’t even give the necessary praise this piece of theatrical wonderment deserves.

IN A WORD runs though March 2, 2015 at 7:00 p.m. in the James Levin Theatre at Cleveland Public Theatre.  For tickets ($12-28) call 216-631-2727 or go on line to