by Barrett Seaman
Andy Paris and Anushka Paris-Carter of Irvington are an unusual couple that have written an unusual play about unusual people that will open October 25 at the Sheen Center for Thought & Culture’s Loreto Theater on Bleecker Street in Manhattan. And, at the risk of being overly repetitive, it is a play that is being produced, directed and staged through an unusual, or at least unorthodox, process.
Uncommon Sense is about the lives of four characters who live in different places along what is called “the spectrum,” meaning the range of behaviors broadly categorized as autism. The play develops these characters as their lives interweave among each other’s, as well as those of “neuro-typical” (normal) friends and family. According to its publicist, the play “reveals our universal challenges with ‘difference,’ our desire to connect, and the lengths to which we go for the people we love.” And in doing so, it “delves into the mysteries of the brain.”
What’s different about the production process, which is under the auspices of Moisés Kaufman’s Tectonic Theater Project, is that instead of following a serial trail from the writer to a director who then auditions actors, while a producer finds a theater and hires costume people and lighting technicians, “We start with everyone in the room,” said Anushka—“writers, directors, actors, lighting costumes…”
In general, said Andy, “the process is very interdisciplinary. The idea is, he explained, “to give birth to a narrative rather than being in a finished narrative.” That said, the couple admits they did 90% of the writing before opening it to the creative input of others.
Their interest, not surprisingly, comes in part from having autism “in the family,” which is as specific as they want to be. But their personal experiences expanded as they learned about autism’s variability. “As they say,” said Anushka, “if you’ve met one person with autism, you‘ve met one person with autism.”
“Our goal is to get the audience to root for the characters,” said Andy. “We also just want to make something that people want to see.” But in doing so, they hope to tackle fundamental issues: what is autism? What is “normal?”
They sought out autistic people not only in the U.S. but abroad—in India and Saudi Arabia. They tapped the expertise of many, singling out Anita Lesko, a photographer and anesthesiologist whose own wedding party, including herself and the groom, was made up of people on the spectrum. One of the actors in Uncommon Sense is himself autistic.
Andy Paris is an actor, writer and director who first worked with Moisés Kaufman to produce several works stemming from the murder of Matthew Shepard, including the EMMY-nominated The Laramie Project. He teamed up with his wife to adapt Rikki Ducornet’s novel, The Fanmaker’s Inquisition into a play. He is from Cincinnati and graduated from NYU.
Anushka Paris-Carter was acting on television in Australia at age 11. She studied at Australia’s National Theater and the Swinburne Institute of Technology and has many credits in her native country. Her New York film and TV credits include “Ed Bowe’s Picture Book” and a stint hosting “X-Games” for ESPN. The couple has two daughters in Irvington schools.
Uncommon Sense will run for 34 shows beginning October 25 through November 26, with the official opening night on November 2. Tickets ($69-$89) are available online at www.sheencenter.org, or by calling 212-925-2812.