by Mike Poblete · August 10, 2014
mislabeledilEMMA: “No, I Don’t Have Down Syndrome” is an autobiographical one woman show by Emma McWilliams, a charming southern 21-year-old, born with the little known Nail Patella Syndrome, a condition that leaves her with no fingernails, dysfunctional joints and the strong possibility of kidney failure and glaucoma. None of this seems to bother her in the least; the problem is that her large eyes and tongue make most people assume she has Down Syndrome. McWilliams brings us on a journey through adolescence where her youthful exuberance and humor try to combat her medical mislabeling through adopting the guise of predictable, though colorful, social cliques such as a wannabe nerd, a self-described “wigger,” a cheerleader and more. After a dark period of reflection, she ultimately admits that though she still hasn’t found her place in the world, through the wisdom of a sassy talking God she can find a peace with being different.
The script is full of sharp one-liners that often had the audience laughing out loud. From mistaking Star Wars and Star Trek in a misguided attempt to impress a geeky Junior High teacher, to successfully imitating someone with Down Syndrome to get out of a shoplifting arrest, McWilliams’ story is full of charismatic anecdotes, delivered with an alluring, spunky attitude. There are aspects that one would expect from a first attempt at theater: a few too many pop culture references and presumed engagement, such as in when McWilliams explains that the audience is wrong in its presumption that she has Down Syndrome before we even get a chance to observe her. But minor flaws are overshadowed by McWilliams’ vitality: she is an energetic, truly likable performer, such as when she performed Nail Patella call-back rap that had the audience joyfully singing along. The creative team, including director Anne Moore, whose acting credits include Grey’s Anatomy, has a smart sense of theatrical pacing that kept me involved.
In the end, the play is good plain fun that left me smiling. With a running time of just under fifty minutes, this is a show at the start of your evening that captures the spirit of the Fringe Festival: giving an unlikely stage to a scrappy, unique and authentic story.