STUPIDHEAD! A MUSICAL COMEDY by Katherine Cullen and Britta Johnson (Theatre Passe Muraille, 16 Ryerson). Runs to April 2. $17-$38,.
STUPIDHEAD! A MUSICAL COMEDY by Katherine Cullen and Britta Johnson (Theatre Passe Muraille, 16 Ryerson). Runs to April 2. $17-$38, mat pwyc. 416-504-7529. See listing. Rating: NNNN
Weve all occasionally felt afraid, alone and insecure about our abilities. But we aint got nothing on Katherine Cullen. The writer/performer chronicles her life with dyscalculia a mathematical and spatial learning disability with self-effacing charm, empathy and lots of emotion in Stupidhead!
The title refers to the unofficial nickname she grew up with. From childhood on, she had difficulty understanding numbers and math she frequently got lost, even if she was literally next door to her home and she continues to have problems planning and scheduling.
Needless to say, she was bullied, not just by her fellow students, but also, in one shocking example, by a grade school teacher.
So the show, co-written with Britta Johnson (who accompanies her on piano, harmonizes and leaves the keyboard to perform in a lovely scene near the end), is Cullens attempt to boost her self-confidence and prove she can do something shes never done before.
Off the top, she admits shes not trained as a musical performer. And while it feels churlish to critique her voice, which can wander off pitch, she gets full marks for gumption, especially in a balls-out rendition of a couple of numbers from Jesus Christ Superstar, which take on symbolic meaning throughout the show.
If the narrative feels episodic, covering everything from high school poetry competitions to a nightmarish (and very funny) Tinder date and an extended critique of Jennifer Anistons admission of her own dyslexia, it all comes together in a very moving climax and denouement.
Chalk that up to Cullens wide-eyed, enthusiastic charm and Johnsons whimsical tunes. Aaron Williss direction is clear and unfussy, and Anahita Dehbonehies set suggests the inner workings of the brain without being too literal. One moment involving that set will leave you gasping.
And who knew that a sequence involving a toy rabbit and koala bear would make you tear up?
In the era of Trump, art that encourages understanding and empathy is essential. Dont miss this show.