It’s a fact that every autistic brain works differently. How does one then go about portraying an autistic character without it seeming like tacky imitation? For Andrew Marko, a relatively new face in the theatre arena in Singapore, it takes a great deal of research (and we think perhaps an even greater deal of talent that not many have) to pull off such a complex, often misunderstood and under represented member of society.
Working for the first time with Pangdemonium, Andrew Marko stars alongside industry veterans in Deanna Jent’s Falling, a play that at its core speaks of the consequences and complexities of unconditional love. The tear-jerking drama centres on Tami (Tan Kheng Hua), a mother who gets by taking care of Josh (Andrew Marko), a severely autistic 18-year-old, with the help of husband Bill (Adrian Pang) and her angst-ridden teenage daughter, Lisa (Fiona Lim). Then enters the visiting grandmother (Neo Swee Lin). Though well intentioned, her cluelessness and unfamiliarity with the family’s system of managing Josh triggers aggressively physical reactions from him, placing the people around him in danger, and leaves Tami’s sanity hanging by a thread.
Kheng Hua delivered one of her most beautiful performances, especially in the quieter, more heart-rending moments of the play. Every delicate nuance was captured in the brokenness of her spirit as her character realises her dream of Josh leading a normal life is dead. Painfully raw and true to life, her portrayal of a mother who can’t help but love her child, someone who could potentially kill her, can break even the hardest of hearts. Though Adrian takes a backseat in Falling, he nevertheless balances out the dramatic crescendos with more subtle emotion – and this brilliant subtlety applies in his comedic bits too. Opposite him are Fiona, the fiery theatre tyro, and Swee Lin, the gentle veteran, each of whom represent the polar pillars of faith and defiance.
And then there’s Andrew Marko, a 24-year-old Sociology major at the National University of Singapore, who seemingly came out of nowhere, only to blow us away in his debut Pangdemonium show. If we hadn’t known any better, we would’ve thought they’d actually hired a genuinely autistic actor to play Josh. A man of versatile talents, Andrew is not only an actor but also writes for local music site Bandwagon, sings with his band, Van Milos, and performs the occasional spoken word poetry.
It’s one thing to read a few lines off a script and follow stage directions. It’s another to understand the psychology behind each action and word, which was what Andrew Marko accomplished, resulting in the creation of a genuine mentally challenged being. His sheer expertise manifested in his ability to transition seamlessly, speech-wise at least, from a regular man into an autistic boy in the same sentence. From the verbal stimming to the clumsy body language, the purity of Andrew’s portrayal (be it frustration, elation, innocence or impudence) was no mere mockery that a regular rookie might have otherwise delivered. Believe us when we say you’ll be seeing a lot more of this guy on stage in the theatre circuit.
Date: Now till 5 June 2016
Venue: KC Arts Centre
Admission: $40, $45, $50, $55
Photo credits: Crispian Chan