Running In Traffic: An emotional response to Autism

The Seton Hill University (SHU) Theatre and Dance Program is proudly presenting the world premier of “Running In Traffic,” by Denise Pullen, associate professor of theater.

“My goal with this new play is to attempt an understanding of the mysteries of the autistic mind and give voice to the needs and desires held hostage within it,” said Pullen in a press release.

Meant to raise awareness for Autism, Pullen created a world for a young man named Bolton. Desperately wanting independence, he sets out into downtown Pittsburgh. We follow him through trials and obstacles as he seeks acceptance and liberation. And like so very many Autistic children, Bolton is unable to communicate verbally with the world around him.

I had the opportunity to see the student preview on Thursday night. I wasn’t aware that this was a Pullen original until I’d gotten there, which made me appreciate it all the more.

The cast handled the roles very tastefully and delivered some pretty powerful performances. While everyone did a phenomenal job, I have to point out how incredible the roles of Bolt and Bolton were.

Played by freshman Domenic Jungling, the character of Bolton is really a sensitive role that would’ve taken quite a bit of research and practice to master. The same goes for his voice—Bolt. Matt Leslie portrayed the distraught, unheard voice within. Their combined performance created a young man that didn’t necessarily demand pity, but instead demanded acknowledgment and respect.

Trying to intervene is Stevie, played by senior Kristy Bissell. Clad in a sandwich suit, she tries to understand and protect Bolton, even rescuing him from the crazy, downtown Pittsburgh traffic. Her humor and compassion helped to create a likeable character.

Then there are Bolton’s brother and sister: JD and Lisa played by Jimmy Amor and Megan Henderson respectively. JD comes to have guardianship over Bolton after certain circumstances rendering their mother, played by Emily Urbaniak, unable to care for them. It’s clear that JD means well, but his protective emotions seem to hinder and blind him to Bolton’s potential and new needs.

Additional performances by Bre Connell, Anderson Parker and Kaylin Martin added to the emotion and finesse of the play.

The setting was downtown Pittsburgh, so there were familiar street names, landmarks and language. I believe I even heard a “Stillers” in there at one point.

Throughout the play, viewers sense the intense frustration that Bolton feels. As his voice tails him, the audience can understand what he’s trying to communicate, but to the others in that fictitious world, and in reality, they can’t hear it. That’s part of what made this play so powerful. This isn’t just fiction here. Autism is a very real thing that isn’t completely understood. I applaud Pullen on raising awareness to this epidemic during April’s Autism Awareness Month and for daring to take something so sensitive and bring it to light.

By the end, I was so drawn into the emotions and actions of the play that the final scene had me in tears. I’m still unsure of how exactly it concluded, but it’s partly the mystery that still has me intrigued and appreciative of the whole performance.

I don’t want to spoil it for those who haven’t seen it yet, but I strongly recommend you do take a little bit of your time and support Autism awareness, your peers and a Seton Hill original. I conclude by saying Bravo to the extraordinary cast, the hardworking crew and the wonderfully brilliant Denise Pullen.

 

 

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