by Andrew Karpan
Performing at the start of this month at the Provincetown Playhouse was “Rule Breaking,” a production by Steinhardt’s Drama Therapy program, featuring a cast consisting of persons identifying as disabled and their caretakers, part of the program’s honoring of the 25th Anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act. Director Nick Brunner explained before the play begun, “Each time we rehearsed…was therapy for everyone involved.” But this did nothing to preclude “Rule Breaking” from being an engaging collection of scenes from the world of disability, a moving experience any rapt audience.
“I have never known life without autism,” Lily Houghton says by way of introducing her older brother Henry, playing the characters Sam and Jake, respectively. Jake has just moved to his first apartment in the city and Sam is helping him move in: “I’m on my own,” he tells her enthusiastically. But she takes this personally, informing him that he will always have a support network that includes, first and foremost, herself. These double readings hang over “Rule Breaking,” whose production choices include a soundtrack leaning heavily on 80s hardcore classics like “Fix Me” and “Rise Above,” hinting at personal resonances to be found in Black Flag’s language of punk pain.
Of “Rule Breaking’s” three narrative arcs, the most moving scenes find themselves between David (a brilliantly sincere Bernardo Carlucci) and his mother (a captivating Cecilia Dintino, an adjunct professor at NYU). The play anecdotally takes us from David’s first diagnosis to his late teens, while Maya Rose Hormadaly, a grad student in the Drama Therapy Program, reprises the role as the face of implicitly limited medical knowledge and the insular hopelessness that opens up in its wake. We can see her change from costume to costume (not-quite offstage) while David’s mother waits in easily seen agony. Later, in a scene on a train, she tells his son about his late birth and her doctor’s decision to not preform a C-Section – later hinted at as the possible cause for brain damage. David ask if that is why he’s the way he is and his mother replies that she wouldn’t want him any other way, the way his eyes light up is genuinely moving.
The other arc present in “Rule Breaking” involves a transgender woman played named Delia (played by Delia Camden) whose mother is just coming to terms with her disabled daughter’s gender identity after Delia finds an LGBT lawyer to help get her name changed legally changed. A friend, Ken, (Craig Becker, an associate director of Residential Services AHRC-NYC) takes her shopping for women’s clothing for the first time in her life. A staple of the gender identity narrative, the scene manages to touch nonetheless. When Ken begins to rile at Delia’s parents for not being there for her, it’s Delia that calms him down.
The three strands tie themselves together toward the end as the three characters congregate in a hospital ward after Jake ends up in a fight. While the material that unites the narrative is flimsy, the earnest performances give resilient beauty to lived experience, making the concluding emotions of unity and support feel more than earned. While NYU’s Drama Therapy program may rightfully present themselves as not preforming, “for entertainment or commercial success,” a play like “Rule Breaking” manages to feel real in ways many a Broadway play never do.
Andrew Karpan is a Contributing Writer. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org