Plays dealing with autism have found a welcome home at Mixed Blood Theatre, which has produced such works as “On the Spectrum,” “Vestibular Sense” and “Theory of Mind” in recent years.
The Minneapolis West Bank playhouse deepens its reputation with “Orange,” a new drama by Twin Cities writer Aditi Brennan Kapil that premiered over the weekend.
Set in Orange County, Calif., the 85-minute one-act takes us on a trip through citrus groves as a young woman comes of age. We also see into her mind in this moving and sensitive work.
“Orange” orbits Leela (Annelyse Ahmad), a serious, thoughtful teenager who likes to write in her diary. When we first meet her, she is flying from her home in India to California for a family wedding. Stateside, she meets up with her cousin (Lipica Shah, who plays all the other female parts) and goes on an adventure in search of the perfect orange.
Because Leela is on the autism spectrum, she has strong reactions to things — or, sometimes, no visible reaction at all. She also may not get some subtleties or subtext. When she sees her cousin and a young man (Owais Ahmed, who plays all the male roles) roughhousing as they flirt, she misconstrues the scenario as an attack and intervenes. There is another commotion at a supermarket when she claims an orange that has not yet been paid for.
Kapil’s writing is hip, sharp and surprising. Her language is often blunt, including the use of casual expletives. But “Orange” also has quieter moments of refined lyricism.
Director Jack Reuler serves the play with care and intelligence. “Orange” literally takes us into Leela’s thoughts, as images projected onto two screens that bookend the stage reveal the things she draws in her diary.
For the most part, Ahmed interprets Leela as if she were a body of water that is calm on the surface but churning beneath. Her movements are contained. Her delivery is robot-like. But through pauses and subtle movements, she provides a glimpse into Leela’s emotions and, however briefly, the tempests in her soul.
Shah and Ahmed have the most fun as they get to play a range of characters. For Shah, these include Leela’s mother and swaggering, impatient cousin. For Ahmed, it’s Leela’s stern father, her cousin’s boyfriend and a taxi driver. The two actors use costumes, gestures and cadence to draw their distinct characters, and they do so efficiently.
The action plays out on Joseph Stanley’s runway-style scenic design, described by director Reuler as a Swiss-army-knife of a set. With hidden components that pop out for useful service, the set helps “Orange” to do its work, giving us a unique, sympathetic portrait of a teenage girl on the autism spectrum.