‘Scared of Sarah’ Intense Exploration of Family, Relationships

I’ve been referring to this play by Off The Wall Productions as a play about autism, but I must amend that now having watched the play for myself.

Scared of Sarah
Photo by Heather Mull

Lily and Sam are wrestling with the fact that Lily is unexpectedly pregnant, a turn of events that generates the usual array of fears about finances, parenting skills and genetics. Lily’s older sister Sarah lives with Fragile X syndrome, adding a concrete level of concern about the neuro health of the fetus. But perhaps more significantly, it dredges up the reality that their mother abandoned them at a young age leaving Lily with the question about her capacity to be a good mother.

Lily and Sam are the two most unlikeable characters I’ve ever watched in a play. Their self-absorption, immaturity and hubris are on full-display as they alternate ranting about their fears with ranting at each other about their failures to adult. I thought I would identify with Sam perhaps given his seemingly genuine attempts to bond with Sarah, but when he threatened to abandon Lily if she considered an abortion – I lost all further interest in his character development. The eventual whipsmack attitude change of both characters was a little rushed given how many lines were devoted to displaying the worst of their Millenial privilege. If the end goal was for me to dislike Lily and Sam with a deep level of disgust, that worked.

Sarah was a different matter. Performed by actor Sarah Silk, this character transcended the trappings of Millenial life (she’s 30 so would be part of that age cohort) as she navigated her own losses and the impact of a new baby on her family with Lily. Her disclosure of a sexual assault is haunting to me as a social worker familiar with the exorbitantly high rate of such assaults on women with disabilities. Her inevitable on-stage ‘meltdown’ was horrifying to behold because Silk had drawn us in to the many capabilities and strengths of Sarah as a character. I wanted more of the rich complexity of this character and far, far less of her whiny simpering sister and immature brother-in-law. Silk absolutely shined performing a role that was very physical and filled with nuance.

Scared of Sarah
Photo by Heather Mull

The play is absorbing and not at all what you expect. It does not reflect well on how we define ‘normal’ and ‘successful’ or even ‘family’ instead turning all of those concepts upside down. The final scene is jarring. I sat in the theater by myself after other patrons had left, just thinking. That’s not a bad thing at all. Even now, I find myself wondering about Sarah’s story.  I realize my play reviews tend to be a little atypical, but I’m not trained in the nuances of performance art so I can only share what I know to be true.

I have no idea if the direction was good, the staging appropriate or how the lighting impacted my experience. I can tell you the set was gorgeous if a bit overcrowded for the venue. It really hit the message of greedy consumption home.

‘Scared of Sarah’ continues December 16-19 at the Carnegie Stage in Carnegie including a Talk Back with members of Arts for Autism on December 16. Tickets are available and include discounts for seniors and artists.

I want to add that we headed into Carnegie last night a bit early to enjoy dinner at a new-to-us Japanese restaurant (Kasai) and then browsing at a local eclectic retro toy store that also served ice cream (The Flying Squirrel.) We have yet to try Bakn, but we are frequent diners at Papa J’s and have enjoyed Cafe Delhi and Riley’s Pour House. Parking is free and ample. The sidewalks are amiable for a nice stroll before or after dinner. Carnegie Stage has its own large parking lot and the capacity to store bikes.

If we want companies like Off The Wall to bring these provocative and thoughtful stories to Pittsburgh, we have to make time to see the shows. I hope you will make that effort next weekend or perhaps consider gifting someone in your life who needs to see this show with tickets.



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