LUCY by Damien Atkins, directed by Eda Holmes (CanStage). At Berkeley Theatre (26 Berkeley). To April 14. Pwyc-$55. 416-368-3110. Rating: NNN Rating: NNN
Exploring autism and the mother-daughter bond, Damien Atkins 's Lucy begins by informing viewers and then gets down to touching their hearts.
The title character ( Meg Roe ) is the 13-year-old autistic daughter of anthropologist Vivian ( Seana McKenna ), who feels she's not cut out to be a mother and has generally distanced herself from emotions. When former husband Gavin ( Tony Munch ) asks Vivian to care for the daughter she's only rarely seen since birth, Vivian grits her teeth and takes on what for her is a burden.
The first act instructs the audience about autism, and Roe provides a striking portrait of the pubescent Lucy, unable to make eye contact, alarmed by physical contact, repeating others' words, fingers flying in an incomprehensible semaphore code. The playwright's given her two voices a clear internal one and an often heartbreakingly unintelligible one used for the outside world.
But we don't really get involved with the characters until the second act, when mother and daughter start to bond and Vivian sees Lucy's behaviour not as a human breakdown but a breakthrough. Here Atkins offers a striking take on evolution and civilization, and the play vibrates with tension and possibilities.
A fine actor who allows five emotions to cross her face in as many seconds, McKenna skilfully develops Vivian's coolness and eventual opening up, but there isn't much depth to Gavin, Vivian's assistant ( Philippa Domville ) or Lucy's doctor ( Brendan Murray ). The problem's in the writing, though, not in the performances or Eda Holmes 's direction.
Though it's an intriguing look at what's different and normal, Lucy needs some fleshing out.