Always Unique, Totally Interesting, Sometimes Mysterious is an hour one-woman play written, created and performed by Alyson Parovel for the 2018 Toronto Fringe Festival playing at the Solo Room at Tarragon Theatre. It looks at how autism spectrum disorder can shape relationships, and open and necessitate unique avenues of communication.
The three words resonated in my mind long after the closing bow were “empathy,” “love,” and “vulnerability.” For me, this is the most vital dramatic source any story can come from — a love for someone else and a need to share vulnerability. But this concept is also important to any discussion of disability.
Always Unique stimulated my thinking in so many ways. Specifically because of how deeply it affected and moved me, and how generally good it is. Parovel has been developing it for about four years, contextualizing much of its incredible polish.
Parovel plays Chloe and Olivia, two twins with an earnest love for and need to support one another. Chloe is ‘on the spectrum‘, which impacts how she communicates and her sister understands her — but crucially, her intelligence, sense of humour, or ability to love aren’t affected.
Chloe’s disabilities shape the complexities of their relationship, but the play poetically stresses that difference isn’t decidedly “bad.” The theme pops up in a staggering variety of messages – “different” and “unique,” AND legitimate.
We are intimately exposed to Chloe’s thoughts and experiences, as the performance takes place largely inside her internal world. The small performance space assists this element of intimacy, as does the thoughtful stage design.
The lighting design communicated volumes – switching from a deep tranquil blue when we were purely inside Chloe’s world; to a bright orange when Chloe was in the presence of her sister Olivia. Where she spoke continuously to us, she uttered not a word to Olivia.
Sound effects were also used to great effect. The stage generated a deep, unnerving bass tone when Chloe’s sensory overload escalated.
Parovel’s performance – her breathtakingly committed physicality, presence, and emotional vulnerability – was the most significant engine for the story and my empathy with Chloe. It was at such a level that I was directly with Chloe. When she underwent a meltdown, I was there with her. I rarely see acting this powerful.
There are so many aspects of this work that Parovel executes thoroughly well, but for me, the most vital is how the performance speaks vividly to the audience and contributes to a broader discussion of disability. Her choice to have a frank and honest discussion with the audience about developmental disabilities and communication is what makes Always Unique stand out.
This show is such an extremely intimate and visceral experience that even as someone who craves theatre that challenges physically and emotionally, I was fatigued. I urge you to see Always Unique, Totally Interesting, Sometimes Mysterious while being aware of how intense this performance can get.
- Always Unique, Totally Interesting, Sometimes Mysterious plays at the Tarragon Theatre Solo Room. (30 Bridgman Ave.)
- Tickets are $13, including a $2 service charge. The festival also offers a range of money-saving passes and discounts for serious Fringers.
- Tickets can be purchased online, by telephone (416-966-1062), from the Festival Box Office at Scadding Court (707 Dundas St. W.), and — if any remain — from the venue’s box office starting one hour before curtain.
- This venue is wheelchair-accessible through a secondary route. Check in at the venue box office at least 15 minutes before showtime, and a staff member will escort you to the venue. Accessible seating is in the front row.
- Be aware that Fringe performances always start exactly on time, and that latecomers are never admitted.
- Wednesday July 4th, 10:00 pm
- Saturday July 7th, 1:30 pm
- Sunday July 8th, 8:00 pm
- Tuesday July 10th, 3:15 pm
- Wednesday July 11th, 4:45 pm
- Thursday July 12th, 8:00 pm
- Friday July 13th, 3:30 pm
- Saturday July 14th, 9:45 pm
- disability-related difficulties
- references of ablism
- panic attacks/meltdowns
- intimate, close space
Photo of Alyson Parovel by Mark Kreder