BWW Reviews: MOCKINGBIRD Teaches Empathy at the Kennedy Center

There is a scene about two thirds of the way through Mockingbird, currently playing at the Family Theater at the Kennedy Center, that cuts straight to the emotional core of the play. Mrs. Brook, a school counselor, asks protagonist Caitlin to try to feel empathy for her father. Caitlin, who is on the autistic spectrum, takes Mrs. Brook literally is initially confused. Why would she want try to walk in someone else's shoes? But then, after a moment of thought, Caitlin plunks herself down on the ground, removes her shoes, and slowly smiles as understanding dawns.

This is Mockingbird in a nutshell. The short play rests comfortably on the shoulders of Dylan Silver as Caitlin, who gives a great performance as an autistic but genuinely smart, spunky, and loveable grade-schooler trying her best to wrap her mind around a terrific loss. Her taunt physicality, verbal ticks, and logical precision both draw us into her world and create empathy (that magical, mysterious word) for how difficult her life must be.

Fortunately, Mockingbird isn't all sappy sentimentalism. The script is tight and witty, and there are plenty of laughs for both adults and children to enjoy.

Andrew Cissna's lighting and Lauren Joy's projections are the other stars of this show. Caitlin's detailed drawings and precise definitions of large vocabulary words are projected across the set, providing a direct window into the order and logic that governs her brain. Colored lights that illuminate lockers and bright exposed bulbs help the audience see how overwhelming the school hall is to Caitlin. Long shadows help heighten the drama when she descends into a tantrum.

It's also important to note while discussing the production's design that the run includes two sensory-friendly performances on Jan 24th at 1:30pm and Jan 31 at 11am, which will reduce sound levels and even out lighting in an effort to be accommodating to autistic audience members. This is a wonderful idea that makes the production accessible to the very audience it is written about-autistic children-and should be applauded. I wish we would see similar efforts to increase accessibility across the D.C. theatre landscape.

The production isn't perfect- Maboud Ebrahimzadeh as Caitlin's father and the ensemble as Caitlin's classmates don't come into their own until later in the show, when their relationship with Caitlin begins to improve-but it is pretty darn close. Most importantly, this is a simple story told beautifully in a way that both adults and their kids can appreciate. By the end you will be willing to take your shoes off too.

Mockingbird, based on the book by Kathryn Erskine, adapted by Julie Jensen, and directed by Tracy Callahan, runs at the Kennedy Center until February 1st. Performances are at 11am, 1:30pm, and 5pm on Saturdays and at 1:30pm and 4pm on Sundays.

Photo Credit: Scott Suchman


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