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‘Violinist’ Uses Mystery Plot To Illuminate Autism At STL’s Gaslight Theater

Kara Campbell, Kirsten Wylder, and husband James, Scott De Broux, look on at son Thomas, Robin Stricklin as he learns to feel the music.
Provided by Gaslight Theatre

Parents face many twists and turns as they forge through the mystery of their child’s autism. An updated local play about autism also involves unraveling a thorny thriller.

“The Violinist” returns to the local stage Friday through Sunday, playing at the Gaslight Theater, 358 N. Boyle Ave. A play by the same name was performed in 2011 at the Missouri History Museum. But the Gaslight Theater production is all new, with a different plot, cast and crew. All proceeds go to local organization Action for Autism.

The new “Violinist” is the story of 13-year-old Thomas, a boy with autism, and his investigation of the suspicious death of a renowned doctor on the cusp of a breakthrough in autism research. In Thomas’ pursuit of the truth, he faces the powerful opposition of hospital and political officials. Still, he summons the courage to continue his quest, according to local playwright Susan Berardi.

“Because of his keen observation skills, he figures out the clues before anyone else does,” Berardi said.

‘I Get It Now’

Berardi speaks from experience because her son Peyton is on the autism scale. Peyton starred in the first “Violinist,” but at 15, he's outgrown the role. He plays violin as well as piano. He'll demonstrate his keyboard skills during intermissions of this new version of the play.

Peyton gave us a preview of "Seasons of Love" from the musical "Rent." (Story continues, below.)

The play’s musical score is performed by a live string quartet, and features a song by LA composer, Brian Arata, whose work includes music from “Spider-Man 3,” “Live Free or Die Hard” and Shooter.”

This is Berardi’s third play about autism. Along with the two “Violinists,” she also wrote “Tony and Liz tie the Knot.”

Berardi wrote the second “Violinst” at the request of Action for Autism. She kept the same name at the suggestion of her book editor, because it’s the title of her manuscript that’s already in progress.

From "Tony and Liz Tie the Knot," Derek, Susan, Ben and Peyton Berardi.
Credit Provided by Susan Berardi
From "Tony and Liz Tie the Knot," Derek, Susan, Ben and Peyton Berardi.

Berardi is in good company among St. Louisans who pen plays about autism. Local playwright and theater educator Deanna Jent is well known for her play about a family with an autistic teenager called “Falling,” informed by the life of her own son. “Falling” ran for several months Off-Broadway and was widely acclaimed.

Theater is an effective vehicle for autism education, Berardi said. She wants people to know that those with autism do not want to be alone. Pursuing relationships is not often a strength, but the desire to connect is as keen as everyone else’s.

Theater-goers have made it clear that Berardi’s autism plays successfully illuminate the diagnosis.

“People who have family members with autism come up to me, tearing up, saying ‘You got it.’” Berardi said. “Those who are not personally affected by autism tell me, ‘I get it now.’”


‘The Violinist’

Where: Gaslight Theater, 358 N. Boyle Ave., 63108

When: 7:30 p.m Friday-Saturday, Aug. 8-9; 2 p.m. Sunday, Aug. 10

How much: $30-$50, $20 for children; all proceeds go to Action for Autism

Tickets: Brown Paper Tickets

Information: “Violinist” website

Follow Nancy Fowler on Twitter: @NancyFowlerSTL

Nancy is a veteran journalist whose career spans television, radio, print and online media. Her passions include the arts and social justice, and she particularly delights in the stories of people living and working in that intersection.

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