The United Solo Theatre Festival opened its 2018 season this past Thursday, September 13th, with “A Train” by Anne Torsiglieri, a returning show that won the award for Best Production at United Solo last year. New to United Solo, I had no idea what to expect as I joined an eager audience in the intimate venue. Nor did I suspect that a whirlwind could fit into this unadorned performance space on the fourth floor of Theatre Row.
“A Train” is the story of Ms. Torsiglieri’s journey of coming to terms with her son’s autism diagnosis, the incredible difficulties that came with it, and the beautiful, joyous love every parent has for their child. Framed as a trip along a subway line, with such colorfully named stops as “Shit Hits the Fan Station”, A Train flows effortlessly between Ms. Torsiglieri’s own story and firsthand accounts by autistic people, parents of autistic children, and medical professionals.
Ms. Torsiglieri’s performance is rich, engaging and honest. She shares experiences (both her own and those of others) that many people hardly comprehend, let alone live through. Her vivid imagery, skillful embodiment of various characters and raw, passionate delivery held the audience in enraptured silence for the entirety of the 85-minute running time.
The story (or rather, stories) of “A Train” is intense and manifold, covering (rather appropriately) a broad spectrum of emotions and characters, without a single moment feeling forced or contrived. Ms. Torsiglieri is a generous and expressive guide on this journey. We feel her frantic desperation to understand her child, and to know him. We feel her frustration when strangers stare at her son, and her fear for his well-being. We feel the rage of parents whose children are cast aside by systems unwilling to accommodate or understand them. We feel the wonder and joy of a child who knows what he or she loves (in the case of Ms. Torsiglieri’s son, it is the New York City Subway system). We see art created by autistic artists, their work made all the more personal and powerful by their unique circumstances. All this and more is expertly woven into a beautiful tapestry of emotion, memory and experience.
What really makes “A Train” outstanding is the way it addresses autism. Although public awareness of autism is growing, it is awareness from a distance, acquired through scientific reports and news headlines. Many people are only aware of the broad strokes and stereotypes about autism and the people touched by it. “A Train” offers something critical to real understanding: the emotional, deeply personal truth of firsthand experience.
Anyone can engage with “A Train,” and everyone should see it. Many of us have felt the warmth of unconditional love, frustration and fury at the powers that be, heartbreak and sympathy for the trials of loved ones, and the luminous joy of seeing them finally overcome hardships and accept themselves. “A Train” is an intense and emotional glimpse at something most pretend not to see, and few understand. It delivers powerful messages and offers valuable insight into the realities of autism. Everyone has a story to tell, and “A Train” is unlike any other, in the best possible way.
Performed by Anne Torsiglieri
Sept. 13 at 7:30pm, Sept. 14 at 9pm, Oct. 8 at 9pm
Composer: Brad Carroll
Director: Risa Brainin
Photo: courtesy of the production
United Solo 2018
410 West 42nd Street
New York City
CHANCE MORGAN is a writer and director currently based in New Jersey. He has worked for Dorset Theatre Festival, Northern Stage, and Bay Street Theatre. He is a graduate of Colorado Mesa University’s theatre program, and spends his time developing his screenplays and musicals.