When Judy Smith was looking for someone to play the central role of stage manager in “Our Town,” the classic Thornton Wilder play about life in small-town America, she wasn’t expecting to cast a boy with Asperger’s syndrome.
Yet when 14-year-old Clayton Mortl auditioned more than six weeks ago, Smith said she experienced a director’s “quintessential moment.” He was perfect for the role.
Legendary actors like Paul Newman have brought powerful performances to the play – a staple of Broadway, community theater and classrooms since its 1938 debut, said Smith, the performing arts center manager and theater arts adviser at New Berlin West Middle / High School.
But when the 18-member middle school cast takes the stage Thursday, at 10 a.m. and 7 p.m., Clay’s performance may be legendary in its own right.
Though everyone is different, people with Asperger’s – an autism spectrum disorder – have impaired ability to socially interact and communicate nonverbally. Their speech may sound different because of inflection or abnormal repetition. Body movements may not seem age appropriate. Interests may be narrowly focused to the extent that common interests aren’t shared.