Newton’s Cradle—Official Selection of the 2016 New York Musical Festival’s Next Link Project —directed by Victoria Clark
by Susan Hasho
Newton’s Cradle focuses on Evan (Heath Saunders) an autistic young man of 29, and explores the emotional reality of his interactions and negotiations within his family. The book & additional lyrics are by Kim Saunders, and music & lyrics by Heath Saunders. With a techno-music feel and a time-shifting narrative, it tells a story located in a family cabin in Alaska on one summer in particular when the two brothers bring their girlfriends to the cabin.
There is some confusion about whose month is whose when they both land at the same time, but that is quickly obsessed over and discarded for bigger issues. Flowing through this plot are scenes of the parents grappling with the pregnancy, and worry about whether their imminent new child will be autistic, as well as past experiences with Evan as a child. There is one particularly telling scene with the mother Audrey (Andrea Jones-Sojola) intensely creating games with Evan to help him deal with his young restless mind, “Make It a Wonder.” Games are an important device in this musical; they illuminate the nature of Evan’s mind and the challenging relationship the brothers have. The songs “A Brief History of Croquet” and “Croquet, Versus the World” highlight the complicated experience of Evan’s will to win and his brother’s problem of how to remain an equal when his brother is special. Is special a curse or a controlling device? And can love solve any of this?
The difficulty of the two girlfriends: Chelsea, Michael’s girlfriend and the challenge of Evan’s crush on her; and Charlie, Evan’s girlfriend and her awareness and acceptance of his autism lend the depth and surprise that is the strongest element of Newton’s Cradle.
The actors are uniformly strong. Heath Saunders as Evan has enormous focus and energy. David Dewitt as the father Nate, Trent Saunders as Evan’s brother Michael, Rose Hemingway as Michael’s girlfriend Chelsea, and Rachel Kara Perez, as Evan’s girlfriend Charlie, all create these difficult relationships with honesty and talent. Andrea Jones-Sojola as Evan’s mother has a difficult journey to make in this show, and she remains a strong presence throughout.
The music is unmelodic and doesn’t add much color to the show, but the lyrics fare better. The direction by Victoria Clark is steady and clarifies much of the action. Newton’s Cradle has taken on a worthy challenge, but despite the talented cast and director, doesn’t quite paint a cohesive enough picture to match the challenge.
Newton’s Cradle, a musical journey into a young man’s unique world of autism, runs through Sunday, August 7, at The Duke on 42nd Street, a NEW 42ND STREET® project, 229 W. 42nd St., between 7th and 8th avenues. Photos: Michael Kushner
The 2016 New York Musical Festival will take place until August 7. For more information, please visit: www.nymf.org