Dan Aykroyd, actress Daryl Hannah and British singing sensation Susan Boyle are among the most recognizable in a list of performers who have harnessed autism spectrum disorders to serve their artistic passions. Add to that roster Louisville-based actor and magician Cody Clark, whose eponymous piece A Different Way of Thinking takes his audience on a journey through his childhood, from a grim diagnosis at 15 months (his parents were told he’d never marry, hold a job or tell them he loves them) through middle school bullying, and later, first love.
Along the way we enjoy Clark’s formidable sleight of hand with traditional (but almost always entertaining) tricks with ropes and cards, as well as some very creative, personally inspired illusions. Have you ever seen a magician pull all the ingredients for macaroni and cheese from an empty paper bag?
Clark’s humor is gentle, occasionally goofy and well practiced, though a few improvisational moments with audience members allowed him to demonstrate his quick wit and comfort onstage. Thursday night’s opening house was generous with its applause and laughter, obviously rooting for Clark. And who could blame them? The performer’s honesty and charm buys a lot of credibility, especially when he seems nearly embarrassed in his declared search for a girlfriend with some “junk in the trunk.”
It felt sometimes as though Clark’s favorite tricks were forced clumsily into the narrative. Some trick/story combinations were poignant and natural, including fascinating musings on the Rubik’s Cube; others (“a dream is like a piece of rope,” followed by a rope trick) were less inspired.
Clunky too were the occasional lighting cues, which added punctuation where none seemed necessary. While I was pleased that the theatrical format of the show allowed for its inclusion in the Fringe Festival, perhaps future iterations will smooth some of the rough edges.
In all, Clark offers a feel-good autobiography of a talented and fearless young performer, whose unusual way of experiencing the world has only served to heighten the practice of his craft.
Joshua Steele is a theatrical producer, actor and vocalist who has worked with many local companies and ensembles. He proudly serves as president of the League of Cincinnati Theatres.