Dragon Productions Theatre Company is excited to present Wild Boy by Oliver Goldstick now though August 21 in Redwood City. This new play, based on the memoir Not Even Wrong by Paul Collins, is a fascinating look at the history of autism. It tells the story of the Collins family, going through an autism diagnosis with their toddler son Morgan. It also tells the story of Peter the Wild Boy. Found alone in the woods in Germany in 1725 by England's King George I at around the age of 12, Peter was brought overseas to the English court, cleaned up, dressed in a green velvet suit, and treated like the king's personal pet. Peter was mute and spurred the thinkers of the time to debate the question "what is human?”
When I first read the script for Wild Boy I was struck by the fact that it’s such a truthful look at a family coping with a diagnosis of their toddler. This couple is doing everything it can to connect with and protect their toddler and they deal with the realization that life with Morgan will never be the “normal” story that other parents have. It’s a subject I’ve not seen told on the stage and especially here in Silicon Valley it’s likely to make a profound impact on the audience.
Contrast that story with the story of Peter the Wild Boy, who is treated like some kind of exotic animal because people at the time didn’t know what to do with special needs children. He was treated as “less than” because nobody could communicate with him. This period of time is often called the Age of Enlightenment because it marked the beginning of an era in which the big thinkers were starting to question long held beliefs. They were beginning to advance ideals like liberty, scientific progress, and the separation of church and state. Prominent English writers like Jonathan Swift and and Daniel Defoe often came to court to observe this “wild boy" and Peter became something of a living symbol of the Enlightenment. He stood at the center of a philospohical argument about the existence of a human soul. If a person cannot speak does he have a soul? Peter likely inspired Jonathan Swift’s novel Gulliver’s Travels. Some literary critics believe that the Yahoos in this book are essentially a literary version of Peter - humanoid looking but dirty brutal creatures who serve as a cautionary tale to more enlightened humans.
In 1726 Daniel Defoe published a paper entitled Mere Nature Delineated, in which he wondered if someone like Peter could have any concept of God, or any kind of moral compass if he didn’t understand language and grew up without any human contact. He concluded that such people remained potentially human because they couldn’t be taught to reason without the acquisition of language.
It’s a thought-provoking tale that serves to show just how far we’ve come in our societal treatment of people with special needs. Director Ken Sonkin says "I am always attracted to stories that deal with the question: “What is normal?” I love how this piece explores relationships in all their human complexity—and that it offers no easy answers. This is not a play about understanding, but rather acceptance. Understanding is an intellectual exercise and because we can never truly “understand” one another, we often default to judgment. But to be compassionate with those who are different than us, to connect with them on their terms (language isn’t necessary), and to be open to what they can teach us—these are the lessons this story reckons with and asks us to consider.”
We hope that you can join us for this special piece of theater. The play runs Thursday, Friday, and Saturday nights at 8p and Sunday afternoons at 2p from July 29 - August 21 at the Dragon Theatre in downtown Redwood City. You can get more information and tickets online at http://www.dragonproductions.net