A Life of Empathy

Steven Oberman. (Photo courtesy of Maya Oberman.)

It has only been fairly recently that society has begun to treat people with Down syndrome with some care and respect. For a long time, people with this genetic disorder were considered mad and confined to asylums with poor conditions and little contact with the outside world.

John Langdon Down, a British physician, was first able to classify the condition that bears his name and, through his work, was able to bring some dignity to the treatment of people with the disorder.

A.D. Productions’ staging of the world premiere of Blurred at the Edges mostly deals with Down (Steven Oberman) trying to protect one of his patients, Ann, from a family conflict. As he tries to resolve the situation, Down talks about his passion for helping others, his family and a tragic incident that continues to affect his life.

With the exception of an introduction at the London Hospital Lecture Hall in 1887, Oberman’s script largely consists of two extended scenes in Down’s Normansfield office. While he treats and takes care of his patients at an asylum, his methods really involve compassion and understanding, as opposed to the more primitive practices of the day.

If Oberman’s writing includes a bit too much detail about the medical profession of that era, his dialogue is often moving when discussing some of Down’s major personal and professional accomplishments.

As a performer, though, Oberman portrays Down with clear motivation and energetic determination. He also plays the part with a joyful attitude and a sense of humor that adds to the appeal of the story.

Robert May’s direction at Diversionary’s Black Box Space uses props such as a door and a telephone to create the illusion that Down is actually speaking to Ann and his wife, Mary Crellin Down (who served as an unofficial assistant). These segments cleverly help move the narrative forward, especially as Down’s empathy for Ann continues to grow.

It says a lot about the work of the crew that Oberman’s performance doesn’t get in the way of their contributions. Eric Ward’s lighting heightens the drama of several sequences, and Mason Pilevsky’s audio uses the voice of actress, Grace Delaney in a couple of conversations among Down, his wife and Ann, which allows theatregoers to feel closer to the subject of the tale.

Educators and family members of people with Down Syndrome will be touched by Down’s caring attitude and the happiness he projects when helping those who are in need of assistance. Down’s sympathetic personality could make them even more compassionate in their treatment of people with the disorder.

Blurred at the Edges tells a compelling story about why understanding and acceptance is essential when dealing with the mentally disabled. Oberman has created an emotional and optimistic tribute to a good man.

[box] Show times are tonight 8:00 p.m and Wednesday at 8:00 p.m. [/box]


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