Throughline's 'Book of Tricks' is Refreshing Theater

First-time playwright Alex Galatic delves into the realities of raising a child with an autism spectrum disorder.

It’s tricky incorporating theater into the blog around here. While talking about shows to see is a key part of covering Pittsburgh’s nightlife, I don’t have the luxury of seeing everything and making a recommendation; I pretty much have to pick an interesting project every six weeks or so and report on it. While this does allow me to be selective, it also means that I’m jumping into projects on spec, more often than not.

That’s my ginger way of getting at the following. Let me be honest — you won’t walk away from Throughline Theatre’s 2012 season premiere, Book of Tricks, raving about the actors, the script, the production. All are fine, bordering on good. None, unfortunately, are remarkable.

What makes it worth your attention is the pure love put into its production at every level. Playwright Alex Galatic, a first-time scribe and Mount Lebanon resident, came to the theater determined to pen a work inspired by his own experiences. Book of Tricks is the result, developed over five years; the show deals with the difficulties and realities of raising a child with an autism spectrum disorder, a task Galatic has faced personally.

His script is honest, without pretension or artifice; he takes the challenges he has faced personally and puts them on the stage. It is, occasionally, not the most artful translation, but it’s just so damn truthful. The same can be said for the production, under the guidance of director Briana Tierno; the show is presented very plainly, without flourish. (That’s not a criticism — any serious embellishment would be inappropriate.)

Most of the performers are charming, notably leading man David Santiago; the two with the most challenging roles, young Cain Alexander (a Pittsburgh CAPA student) as the child in question, and Bob Rak as his undiagnosed-but-afflicted and estranged grandfather, rise ably to the challenge and root the show in reality.

Throughline Theatre, as a company, is warm, inviting and refreshingly earnest. They remind me of a particularly motivated community theater group, or an impassioned student group. Are things as polished and refined as they might be at rival companies? No. There are no union actors here, no long resumes in the cast & crew biographies. But stripped of pretension and posturing, it occurred to me that I was watching something unique in Book of Tricks — a production with no jaded performers, no one going through the motions for a credit or a paycheck and certainly no indifference. Galatic has something to say, and he’s going to present it as plainly and honestly as he can. The performers believe in the message, and are happy to be able to be a part of the proceedings. The company wants your attention, and they’re grateful you’re there.

So I can’t say that Book of Tricks is a must-see play. I can’t say that you’re doing yourself a disservice if you miss out. But I can tell you that if you’re burned out on slick, detached productions and want a more personal connection for once, Throughline’s show might well be the antidote. It’s a refreshing, likable night at the theater; that in and of itself can be hard to come by.

Categories: After Dark