Theater review by Raven Snook
The moment you set foot in the theater for We Live By the Sea, you're thrust into Katy's world. A loquacious 15-year-old on the autism spectrum, she sits on the floor at the entrance and asks to touch your shoes. It's a disarming greeting that plunges you straight in the mindset of this alternately exuberant and exasperating character, brilliantly embodied by Alexandra Brain with tremendous multisensory support from an imaginative design team. Katy likes to tell stories, so we hear all about her difficult life in a seaside British hamlet, where she lives with her older sister, Hannah (Alexandra Simone), and her imaginary dog, Paul Williams (Lizzie Grace). When a grieving 18-year-old named Ryan (Tom Coliandris) moves to town, he expands the siblings' insular lives.
Collaboratively created by the London theater company Patch of Blue (with input from the U.K.'s National Autistic Society), We Live By the Sea works best as a loving and empathetic portrait of a neurodivergent teen. Director Alex Howarth's 15 years of experience as a drama therapist for people on the spectrum imbues the play with authenticity. The narrative, however, is less believable. Hannah and Ryan are bonded by loss but their backstories are soapy and their romance seems contrived; the play flags whenever it shifts to their points of view. Katy's special needs may be challenging, but her atypical perspective is what gives the show a specialness of its own.
59E59 Theaters (Off Broadway). Devised by Patch of Blue. Directed by Alex Howarth. With ensemble cast. Running time: 1hr 30min. No intermission.