A new autobiographical play by New York-based playwright and actor Ryan J. Haddad gives audiences a firsthand look at what it’s like to negotiate an environment that’s not designed for people with mobility challenges.
“Dark Disabled Stories” began previews at New York City’s Public Theater on Feb. 28. The play’s official opening will take place on March 9 – coinciding with both Developmental Disabilities Month and National Cerebral Palsy Month. (We don’t know if that is intentional, but it’s pretty cool)!
Directed by Jordan Fein and performed by Haddad, who has cerebral palsy and uses leg braces and a walker, “Dark Disabled Stories,” encompasses a series of vignettes that illustrate Haddad’s real-life experiences living in an inaccessible city.
Joining Haddad onstage is deaf actor Dickie Hearts who will provide sign language interpretation and wheelchair user Alejandra Ospina who will provide audio description.
“Dark Disabled Stories” is Haddad’s first off-Broadway play, but not his first foray into the entertainment industry. His first one-man show, Hi, Are You Single? was performed as part of The Public Theater’s Under the Radar Festival and he has also appeared in various regional theater productions. Haddad can also be seen on Netflix’ “The Politician”, in which he has a recurring role, and in shows such as “Madam Secretary” and “Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt.”
Despite his success in television, Haddad attributes his career to the fact that he has written roles for himself. As he told MetroWeekly back in 2022, “it’s no secret that the reason I have a career at all is because I wrote my way toward a career with this play and the subsequent plays that have yet to be produced but will be soon, and the stories that I keep telling. … the thesis of what I’m trying to say is that I am an actor, but 70 to 75 percent of the work I do on a daily basis or a monthly basis or a yearly basis is writing my way towards an acting opportunity that I have created for myself.”
Haddad says that’s the case because the entertainment industry still provides few opportunities for actors with disabilities.
While Haddad acknowledges that the entertainment industry is making progress toward the inclusion of disabled actors, he says “we’re not there yet. We haven’t arrived at the moment of, ‘No, no, we will not cast a non-disabled person in a disabled role.’ It’s still accepted in many instances.”
For the duration of “Dark Disabled Stories’” run, The Public Theater has taken steps to make the theater and production more accessible to disabled audiences. Not only does the show include ASL interpretation, open captions and audio description, the theater has also added extra wheelchair seating to ensure that all audience members can be comfortably situated. Additionally, The Public is relaxing its usual audience etiquette so that individuals “can be free to be themselves” during performances. Finally, deaf and disabled individuals can access discounted tickets to performances with a code available on The Public’s website.
For more information, visit publictheater.org