Squirrel Suit’s The ADHD Project takes a circuitous route through its subject material (as might be expected, given the matter at hand) but does so with high energy and a sunniness that counteracts some of the darker subject material.
ADHD Project tells Carlyn Rhamey’s story of having to live with ADHD her whole life, including such bright tidbits as being segregated into a special education classroom and the bullying that comes with that territory, but Rhamey’s slightly effusive manner deals with the negative memories on a way that acknowledges that they happened without letting them cloud the rest of the show. Along the way there’s also some light scientific explanation of how exactly ADHD physiologically affects the brain, a wonderfully terrible French accent, and a truly excellent use of lights and facial expression to express the anxiety Rhamey felt during a college exam.
Rhamey is a very engaging storyteller, and though the through-line of The ADHD Project is distracted at times, her focus never wavers. Her energy is somewhat reminiscent of a self-deprecating Ellie Kemper – positive almost (but not quite) to a fault while maintaining a very down-to-earth self-awareness (with just a hint of tongue-in-cheek).
One part of this show sticks out a little from the rest – the very beginning sees Rhamey assume the role of a tour guide to the human brain, with a rather high voice and somewhat high-and-mighty demeanour. It works perfectly fine on its own merits, but when connecting it to the rest of the show it seems little out of place. Every other time Rhamey embodies a character she does so by introducing the character’s voice into the conversation she holds with the audience, before incorporating the character in a more traditional physical embodiment. That introduction is absent at the beginning and so to flow into the show from that first segment is somewhat jarring.
All in all, however, there’s not much else to criticize: Rhamey’s telling of her life story flows easily in chronological order with frequent interruptions tangentially related with the moment at hand. She maintains an honest neutrality on some of the potentially more controversial aspects of the show, particularly whether or not segregating neurodiverse students into their own classroom away from the others is a good idea or not (I was also a special education case in elementary and high school, and like Rhamey I have mixed feelings on the policy). Barely mentioned, and for good reason, is the typically suburban argument that ADHD and other disorders along the behavioural spectrum can be attributed to a lack of discipline and that those who live with them can “snap out of it.” The show is not strangely incomplete without this perspective, rather it comes stronger for it by not diving into potentially preachy territory (rather at odds with Rhamey’s persona) and also by not giving the time of day to unconstructive, opinion-based logic.
The ADHD Project is an honest look at living with a condition that has been the butt of many jokes but affects real, wonderful people in ways that occasionally surprise you. Rhamey’s storytelling skills are out in full force here, and it’s not something you should miss.
A Squirrel Suit production
Written and Performed by Carlyn Rhamey
Directed and Designed by Jon Paterson
At Studio Léonard-Beaulne (Venue 3)
Sunday 11 June 7:00pm
Wednesday 14 June 11:00pm
Thursday 15 June 9:30pm
Saturday 17 June 4:30pms