The latest production from husband and wife duo Adrian and Tracy Pang and their theatre company ‘Pangdemonium!’ is an emotional drama about a family struggling with the challenges of living with their autistic son Josh.
Tami, played by Tan Kheng Hua is a sweatpant wearing, roll-up-your-sleeves mother who uses wine and avoidance to combat the daily stress of dealing with her eldest child. Her husband Bill, played by Adrian Pang, is a goodnatured, hands-on dad feeling both rejected by his wife’s nonexistent libido and her inability to let him share in their frustrations. The fourth member of the family is Lisa, Josh’s younger sister, who spends as much time as possible away from the home or ignoring her brother.
Things come to a boiling point with the arrival of Bill’s mother from Perth, who comes to visit while her home is being refurbished. From the moment Nana arrives the palpable tension that has been building from Josh’s repetitive habits, anxiety with new situations and potential for violence reaches a boiling point.
‘Falling’ is a very funny play and its humour works best when it’s centered around Josh, whether its him immediately silencing his father’s attempts to join in the sing-a-longs he and his mother bond over, or his Nana misunderstanding the family’s code and rushing into a volatile situation with peanut butter while shouting “Crunchy or Smooth!” At other times the humour felt a little forced, but unpinned by the dramatic conflict, the awkwardness soon passed over.
The star of the play is undoubtedly Andrew Marko, the actor who plays Josh. I (and I’m sure most of the audience) were convinced he had some sort of disability, although I knew from my limited knowledge of autism that the concept of ‘pretend’ would probably be difficult for an autistic actor. Imagine my amazement when three-quarters into the play, he seamlessly took on a different character. A current NUS student, Andrew Marko is a gifted and extraordinary talent who with his large frame, sporadic eye contact and braying voice gives an utterly convincing, frightening and heartbreaking performance.
It did feel like “Falling’ was an ‘Autism 101’ lesson but that I think is the point: to experience the reality of what it’s like dealing with a condition that can never go away, loving a child who can never show you love in the same way, making constant sacrifices in your life to keep them safe and secure while suppressing the guilt of dreaming of a life without that child.
The ending was beautiful. Unoriginal perhaps, but a poignant release after an exhausting show. There wasn’t a dry eye in the house.
‘Falling’ is on till the 5th of June but book quickly as most nights are sold out!