Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Revenge: 'Tis Sweet

In my second year of directing The Shakespeare Club, a special-education teacher approached me to pitch one of her students for the club.

"Jack is special kid and I just have a feeling that he would do so well with you and the club. His mom agrees and we hope you will seriously consider him."

Oh boy. This was Year Two and I was barely out of rehab after Year One and the trauma of what classroom chaos was all about.

"I have to be honest here, I really know nothing about autism beyond what I've seen in a couple of documentaries. I'm over my head as it is...I don't know...."

"Meet him. Let him audition. Please."

"Okay, here's what I'll do. Jack can certainly audition and if after that I think it might work...I'll give it a go on a trial basis. Both you and his mom have to understand that if I don't have what it takes to help Jack...well, you know."

"That's all we ask."

Jack, a skinny boy with blonde hair and blue eyes, threw me for a loop over and over in ways that I did not predict.

In "Hamlet," I cast him as the ghost of Hamlet's father. Jack picked up his script and channeled some old English actor like Alastair Sim, famous for his portrayal of Scrooge in "A Christmas Carol."

"Haaammmlet...." Jack's voice boomed in an English accent.

I dropped my script to my lap and my jaw next to it. Where the heck was this coming from?

Mark me! My hour is almost come.
I am thy father's spirit doomed to walk the night.
At dawn I render up myself and disappear from sight.
If thou didst ever thy dear father love,
Revenge his foul and most unnatural murder!

Jack walked straight-legged as if wearing a suit of armor. He reached his arms forward as a ghost might. His voice rang out forceful, loud and clear. He took months to remember my name but he learned his lines.

The trial period was over...I was keeping Jack.

Jack suffered as many slings and arrows from his fellow club members as poor Hamlet did in the play. He was made fun of and he was excluded. One boy was dropped from the club for bullying Jack and making a false accusation.

Tears streamed down Jack's cheeks. "I didn't do that, Ms...Ms...Ms...I didn't."

Jack, in his private world, accepted most things with aplomb and just kept acting harder.

Like many children with autism Jack wasn't big on touching, but after his performance he accepted handshakes from his relatives and his teachers. He thrust his hand forward for a formal greeting.

From me, he actually allowed a hug and said my name.

"Ms. Ryane, that was great."

"You were great, Jack. You were great."

His mother sent me a note saying that when Jack was diagnosed at three years of age, they never thought they'd see a day like the day he played the ghost in Hamlet.

The next year, Jack played Juliet's suitor, Paris, in "Romeo and Juliet." He wept over his beloved's body. He laid flowers next to her. He fought in a swordfight.

By Year Four, he'd graduated and left the school, but one day as I was working privately with Luis, this came up:

"Ms. Ryane?"

"Yes, Luis."

"Remember that kid, Jack...he was that ghost guy in 'Hamlet'? He was great, wasn't he?"

"Yes, Luis he certainly was. We all learned a lot from Jack."

Peter don't know how read but Peter can invited romeo to the party.

Tybailed get's mad at romeo because he is invited.

I'm playing count Paris and I want to mery Juleit but she doesn't wants to mery me she want's to mery romeo and that's make me grumpy and want to kill romeo but he kill me insted.

I like to be count paris because I have a sowrd my mom and dad is SO proud of me they did lights and sound I like the capulets best then the mantegus also I like the pizza party my favoret monetagu is romeo and my favoret capulet is count paris and my favoret part of romeo and Juliet is the fighting romeo vs count paris that’s all.
—Jack, 5th grade


  1. I was blown away! Jack? You bet!

  2. "... if I don't have what it takes to help Jack...well, you know." You, the true teacher taking responsibility...others might say, "If he can't cut it...well, you know." Bravo, Mel!

  3. I never noticed that. is a difference, to be sure.

  4. Always delicious. Kudos and love, LB


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