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A CurtainUp BerkshiresBerkshire Review
Eugene's Home
Cranwell Resort

Look at me!-- the plea of the title character and all handicapped people that asks us to look beyond the fluttering, bent limbs and garbled speech.

The Porches Inn

Arnie Burton as Eugene
Arnie Burton as Eugene
(Photo: Kevin Sprague)
To be perfectly honest, with several real life friends seriously ill, I wasn't too eager to see Eugene's Home. According to the advance press materials, playwright Kathy Levin Shapiro's fictionalized account of her friendship with a cerebral palsy victim ends with his falling into an irreversible a coma.

The playwright's mission of making audiences see beyond the disabilities of people like Eugene sounded indisputably admirable, but awfully downbeat. I was therefore pleasantly surprised -- and relieved -- that this was't quite the grim experience I anticipated. In fact there were some fairly funny moments.

To be sure, our first view of Eugene (Arnie Burton) makes us -- like Talie (Kelly McAndrew), the author's stand-in -- want to avert our eyes from the twisting and drooling Eugene. But Eugene is feisty and smart, and refuses to let Talie or the audience look the other way. "Look at me" he insists -- and so we do. What we come to see is a high IQ, witty young man who happens to be severely physically disabled. The fact that Eugene emerges as a person who can charm and manipulate and to whom attention must be paid owes much to Arnie Burton's quite remarkable portrayal of Eugene and Scott Schwartz's simple and direct staging.

So much for the good news. While this is clearly an author with a big heart (She's devoted much energy to a charity called "Magic Me," which she launched in the hopes of positively connecting young people to the oft times frightening world of the old, ill and dying), the fictional frame with which she's surrounded her friendship with the real Eugene (I assume a man named Lloyd Alpern whose family is listed as sponsoring this play in his memory) detracts from it's authenticity.

Kelly McAndrews has the rather hopeless task of conveying Talie's deepening affection for Eugene and also making the contrived additional development believable. If she looks uncomfortable more often than not, blame the artificiality of the script. Kathleen Doyle has a better time of it playing all the additional characters -- the nurse caring for the comatose Eugene, his mother, a bag lady who bestows her sexual favors on the inmates of the facility Eugene so desperately wants to leave for a real home.

I suppose you could say that Talie's burgeoning friendship is an upbeat ending. But Ms. Levin Shapiro would have done better to write a straight docu-drama. At any rate, with this cry for a more understanding view of cerebral palsy victims, and Annie Sullivan desperately trying to help seven-year-old deaf, mute and blind Helen Keller learn to communicate and have a life on the Main Stage (The Miracle Worker), people are likely to think that BTF's artistic director Kate Maguire has been replaced by a medical disability specialist.

Eugene's Home
Written by Kathy Levin Shapiro
Directed by Scott Schwartz
Cast: Eugene is Arnie Burton (Eugene), Kelly McAndrew (Talie), Kathleen Doyle (Nurse, Doris, Nurse's Aide, Gail and Margaret)
Sets: Beowulf Boritt
Costumes: Junghyun Georgia Lee
Lighting Design: Scott Schwartz & Adam Scott Howarth
Originial Music & Sound: Scott Killian
Berkshire Theatre Festival's Unicorn Theatre, Route 7, Stockbridge, 413-298-5576
August 4 to 21, 2004
Monday through Saturday at 8 PM.
All tickets are general admission --$27
Review by Elyse Sommerbased on August 5th performance
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Listing information:

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