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Article of Interest - Down Syndrome

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Bridges4Kids LogoSchneider: Local Boy Brings Realism to BoarsHead Role
John Schneider, Lansing State Journal, May 13, 2005
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EAST LANSING - Who could be better in the role of a boy with Down syndrome than a boy with Down syndrome?

Well, it depends on how you look at it.

As a stroke of realism, it's a perfect match. But, in terms of the nuts-and-bolts realities of staging live theater, with its demands and deadlines, the casting poses certain challenges.

Take the case of Kierin Kerbawy, a 13-year-old seventh-grader at East Lansing's MacDonald Middle School. Beginning Wednesday, Kierin will reprise his roll as Georgie in BoarsHead Theatre's production of "Over the Tavern."

BoarsHead first presented the play, written by Tom Dudzick, in the fall, and brought it back by popular demand.

Word play

Speaking of tough demands, Kierin is required, in his role, to repeatedly use a certain expletive - a word he wouldn't dream of using in his day-to-day life.

"He told me, 'I can't say that word,' " said Kierin's father, Colin Kerbawy. He got the job, early in rehearsals, of trying to make his son understand subtle matters of context.

Geoffrey Sherman, BoarsHead's artistic director, recalled Kierin's first encounters with the locker-room language.

"The word was so alien to him that he had trouble just forming it," Sherman said.

And that, Sherman acknowledged, wasn't the only problem. In the first weeks of rehearsals, Kierin's lagging reaction time almost forced Sherman and director Jane Page to scrap the experiment and hire a run-of-the-mill child actor for the part.

But Colin Kerbawy convinced the BoarsHead folks that his son could do it, and ultimately, through hard work and persistence, Kierin did.

Of course it didn't hurt that Sherman was in Kierin's corner.

It so happens that Sherman worked with children with Down syndrome in his native England, and is familiar with the consistently underestimated kids.

Even so, when he staged "Over the Tavern" at a theater in a different American city, he took the conventional route of casting a standard child actor in the role.

"I always regretted that," Sherman said. "This time around, I decided to atone for my sins. I said, 'Let's try.' "

As far as Sherman knew, Kierin is the first child with Down syndrome ever to be cast as Georgie.

No rookie

Kierin is not without experience on stage. He was in the Fairview Elementary School production of "Little Peep" and in the All-of-Us Express Children's Theatre's "The Pied Piper of Hamelin."

Asked about his experience with the professionals at BoarsHead, Kierin said, "It's awesome."

And, regarding that word Kierin bandies about on stage ... I asked him, jokingly, if it ever slipped out at school.

"No...well, once," he said.

"Over the Tavern" tells the story of a 1950s traditional Polish-Catholic family and the son who challenges the unchallengeable.

Sherman said demand for tickets exceeded availability during the show's September run, which is why it's back this spring.

"Over the Tavern" will appear at BoarsHead, at 425 S. Grand Ave. in Lansing through May 29. For ticket information, call 484-7805.


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