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These articles were excerpted from Tapestry, a weekly newsletter that examines the arts and entertainment world in Charlotte and North Carolina.

Don't underestimate the cast of 'Andy and the Orphans' at Three Bone Theatre

Left to right: Susan Cherin, Eddie Barbanell, David Catenazzo and Vanessa Robinson in Three Bone Theatre's "Andy and the Orphans."
Three Bone Theatre
Left to right: Susan Cherin, Eddie Barbanell, David Catenazzo and Vanessa Robinson in Three Bone Theatre's "Andy and the Orphans."

Children with intellectual challenges haven't always been treated right by society, or even by their own families. It's a theme explored in Three Bone Theatre's production of "Andy and the Orphans."

A pair of siblings have to reconnect with their brother, Andy, who has Down syndrome and has been institutionalized for most of his life, as they go on a road trip to their father's funeral.

In the title role is actor Eddie Barbanell, who was in the original off-Broadway production in 2018. It was the first on- or off-Broadway show to feature a lead actor with Down syndrome.

WFAE's Nick de la Canal spoke with Barbanell alongside Mitzi Corrigan, who was a consultant for the Three Bone production.

Nick de la Canal: When I saw the play, one of the things that struck was how Andy's two siblings seem to underestimate him a lot, like they talk to him like he's a kid. They don't really think that he can even understand the concept of death, which is really not the case, right?

Eddie Barbanell: Nope. I let no one reject me and to ignore me. I love to be a part of a family, and that's what this cast made me a part of — a family.

De la Canal: Why do you think that people sometimes underestimate people with mental disabilities, or why do they act that way toward them?

Barbanell: Because people are ignorant. I push people who are ignorant on the back burner, and I put myself forward.

De la Canal: So you said this cast really feels like a family here in Charlotte. What was it like working with the cast?

Barbanell: It felt great. They hug me. They embrace me. And that's what I love about this production, because people love to embrace people, and parents should learn to do more of that. Embrace your children, not yell at your children with intellectual challenges.

It's like God takes something away from them in one area and makes them extraordinary in other areas.

Eddie Barbanell and Vanessa Robinson in Three Bone Theatre's "Andy and the Orphans."
Three Bone Theatre
Eddie Barbanell and Vanessa Robinson in Three Bone Theatre's "Andy and the Orphans."

De la Canal: Mitzi, you were brought on as a consultant for this production. What was your first impression when you read the script?

Mitzi Corrigan: Well, Robin (Tynes-Miler, Three Bone Theatre's artistic director) did ask me to read it because I have a daughter, a young adult, with Down syndrome. And I thought it was awesome.

The writing is so good. It's funny, it's — it's sad. It will make you cry, it will make you laugh, and it will make you really think about how you do perceive people with different abilities.

De la Canal: What were some things that you did to work with the cast to prepare them for the show?

Corrigan: Mostly it was just to kind of be there to answer questions about certain situations that they were in, because I don't know that any of them really had direct contact with this community of people, and since I'm a part of that community, it was talking through some of my own experiences, because I didn't have a prediagnosis when Emma was born, and how that was a fearful thing for my husband and I, and how that affected us.

And just the thought of some of the themes in this play were things that I take very seriously, and I can see and understand how people would have these opinions. But thankfully, times have changed, and views are changing, and people with disabilities have more rights to protect them and to include them in things. Like anything, there's still a long way to go, but this is a good topic to discuss and think about.

De la Canal: Was there anything special that you did to prepare for your role this second time around, Eddie?

Barbanell: Not really because I've done the play twice off-Broadway and back in Florida. And now it's turning into a movie version that the playwright actually wrote me in, into the movie version.

De la Canal: Wow! I didn't know this. is that going to come out soon?

Barbanell: Hopefully soon.

De la Canal: Do you think there's a lesson in this show? Something that you hope that audiences will take away?

Barbanell: The takeaway from this play is to make sure that you treat people with respect and dignity. Be tolerant of people, be cognizant of their needs, and to help people with intellectual challenges. I'm not going to use the word disability, because the word disability I don't like to use, because the word disability means that you're dissing people with a disability.

I love to use the term different abilities, like Mitzi was talking about. And because of her, my life has changed.

Corrigan: Living your dream, man.

Barbanell: Right. I'm living large.

Corrigan: And I think, too, it's don't underestimate people. Just don't. That's part of the big lesson. I think he was underestimated. The attitudes back then were different, and they were — parents were told their children would never walk or read or anything. That is not the case.

Barbanell: And I think that we should accept people for who they are on the inside, not the outside. Don't judge a book by its cover.


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Nick de la Canal is an on air host and reporter covering breaking news, arts and culture, and general assignment stories. His work frequently appears on air and online. Periodically, he tweets: @nickdelacanal