Theater Review: IS IT THURSDAY YET? (La Jolla Playhouse in San Diego)

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by Milo Shapiro on July 20, 2023

in Theater-Regional,Theater-San Diego


Human nature loves to ponder the impossible to answer: What does food taste like to other people? What does a colorblind person imagine color looks like? What is it like to be inside the mind of someone with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD)? There may never be a show about the first two, but co-creator, choreographer, and primary performer Jenn Freeman wants to give you insight into the third because it’s been the platform and framework of her thirty-six years of life.

Finally diagnosed only three years ago, Freeman works to put together the pieces of her difficult childhood in retrospect, now having this understanding of what made her feel so different, what gave her safety, and what others around her had to deal with. From there, she collaborated with the brilliant Tony- and Emmy-Award winning choreographer Sonya Tayeh (perhaps best known for her stunning work on Moulin Rouge! (Tony winner) and So You Think You Can Dance), to co-create this provocative and introspective piece (which Tayeh also directs).

Is It Thursday Yet? gives the public a peek into the mind of the person with autism, through dance, music, percussion, prop usage, childhood home video, and narration. The last of this list helps keep us tightly bound to her story, rather than so many dance-based programs where the story in the mind of the choreographer may be lost on the audience; here, there is little risk of misunderstanding.

Beyond what a fine portrayer of story-through-dance Freeman is, especially in her precise isolations, one of the most intriguing aspects of the program is the use of real-life dialogue. Freeman convinced her diagnosing therapist, Dr. Kimerly Gilbert, to allow her to use clips recorded at their sessions as voiceovers during her dances (which, with one minor exquisite exception, are solely Freeman on stage). In addition to that spoken track, musical composer and performer Holland Andrews, positioned upstage right, provides voices of other people when she’s not singing, making it clear what Freeman is experiencing externally while the dance tells the inner story. Perhaps the strongest blend of dance and voice is a section that shows what Freeman goes through in her mind while trying to fit in at a party, where Andrews creates everyone else at the event.

Although Freeman’s dance will certainly be the focus of the piece, a close second is the massive presence that is Holland Andrews and Andrews’ compositions. Andrews’ Annie Lennox meets Kate Bush meets Beverly Sills score with its blend of both beauty and purposeful discordance is gorgeous and hypnotic. Andrews’ skills in echoing repetitive phrases (using a soundboard mixer) underscore Freeman’s craving for order. Just when you think Andrews has done it all, a clarinet is used to add poignancy to yet another of Freeman’s dances. Andrews’ performance would be worthy of a show unto itself if Freeman ever called in sick. What’s more, Andrews’ unexpected step from the musical platform to the stage to become the physical burden that Freeman must carry in a dance (while still singing!) only amplifies how critical Andrews is in helping make Freeman look so good.

An underlying message of the 85-minute one-act is that we all excel differently. In a video clip toward the end, Freeman shares that she can’t imagine her life now without the knowledge that ASD is the thing that causes her to be unlike others. But her gratitude for dance — the one place that always made sense to her and allowed her to fit in when little else did – shines through.

photos courtesy of La Jolla Playhouse

Is It Thursday Yet?
La Jolla Playhouse in San Diego (Regional Theater)
2910 La Jolla Village Drive, La Jolla
Tues, Wed at 7:30; Thurs & Fri at 8; Sat at 2 & 8; Sun at 2 & 7
ends on Aug 6, 2023
for tickets, call ­ 858.550.1010 or visit La Jolla Playhouse

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