Crossing the Rubicon on the ‘‘A” Train

By Steven Libowitz   |   April 16, 2024
Anne Torsiglieri is bringing a revamped telling of the “A” Train to the Rubicon (courtesy photo)

About 15 years ago, Broadway actress Anne Torsiglieri, who over her career has appeared in Miss Saigon, Top Girls, Parade, and Blood Brothers as well as the official national tour of Les Miserables, found herself totally unprepared for a role. 

She’d won awards for her portrayal of Catherine Sloper in The Heiress at Berkeley Rep, landed guest shots on Law & Order, and played dozens of parts in regional shows across the country. But it wasn’t another acting gig that caused the anxiety. It was a diagnosis of autism for one of her young twin boys. 

“We were totally unprepared about how to support him, how to make sense of it, how to navigate not just the basics of life and him and his health and all that, but also just as a parent, how do I not freak out?” Torsiglieri explained. “How do I learn to be the person who puts the oxygen mask on myself so that I can help the person next to me? How does one find the perspective to be able to be a good parent, a good advocate, and stay sane at the same time?”

Torsiglieri turned to what she knew best. 

“We actors dig around in our souls for stories and things that are compelling to us, problem-solving in our hearts and minds by mucking about with our own lives and our own issues and our own questions. It was in that world that I decided to create a theatrical piece about it.” 

The actress attended conferences and interviewed everyone she could find on the subject: fellow mothers of autistic kids, doctors, social workers and other experts, as well as many people who have autism themselves. 

“I’d ask them, ‘What’s your experience? What’s going on? What helped you? What didn’t help you? What’s it been like for you?’” she recalled. “I scripted a lot, but the characters’ words are mostly verbatim.” 

She collated and curated the transcripts, added her own creative writing, including stories, poems and songs. She developed the piece with friend and director Risa Brainin of UCSB Theater, where Torsiglieri also teaches, and engaged composer-songwriter Brad Carroll of PCPA (Lend Me a Tenor, the Musical) to fashion the musical numbers. 

The result is the one-woman show called “A” Train, meant to reflect not only her son’s obsession with trains but also a metaphor for Torsiglieri’s journey. The actress portrays all of the characters including herself on stage, offering respectful and honest representations, along the way both educating and entertaining the audience in a spectacularly theatrical show and moving experience. 

“Theater is about a character’s journey and how they are changed along the way,” Torsiglieri said. “By making this a solo show with the main character both recounting it to the audience and having to become these other people, she walks in their shoes and really gets the experience of being them. That’s what really pushes her transformation.”

The piece had workshop performances at Brainin’s UCSB LaunchPad back in 2017, and garnered rave reviews at the Skirball Cultural Center and won awards at the United Solo Festival in New York before a run at Torsiglieri’s hometown black box house Center Stage Theatre in October 2018. The play’s combination of humor, education, pathos, and spirit proved a spectacular success, and “A” Train seemed sure to be destined for more exposure. Indeed, the show was set for regular run at Rubicon Theatre in Ventura for the spring of 2020 before the pandemic hit. 

Torsiglieri used the downtime to re-examine the piece, and has made a few alterations, adding two new songs by Carroll, including the opening number, and a different ending, she said. 

“The world has changed. I’ve changed, we’ve all changed. In my family, our boys have grown older. (They are now 20.) They have a different perspective about the world. I have a different perspective about them. I didn’t want to address that directly, but there’s now an envelope that wraps the story up that supports an update.” 

The new version of “A” Train plays at the Rubicon April 13-28, the first re-mounting of the work since 2019. Even five years later, autism is also much better understood and accepted, and much more so than when she first had the concept 15 years ago. 

“There are even insights about the beauty and value of the autistic mind,” she said. “More is needed, and I’m still keen to do whatever I can to further the conversation, to open hearts
and minds.” 

Torsiglieri also has an updated perspective on the piece as her life has continue to evolve. 

“I learned a lot myself in the process, not only about autism, but about my son and about how one can reframe in a very healthy way, and come up with a different perspective about happiness in life,” she said. “Life is complicated and messy and with ups and downs, and the trick is to have a center from which you can experience life and take the good and the bad and find joy and meaning. It’s not just people who are dealing with this particular issue, but about how we are able to enjoy the moment even when we are drowning or surrounded by fear or war.” 

Can “A” Train facilitate that growth? 

“I believe that art can change the world,” Torsiglieri said. “I hope the play in some small ways plants seeds of understanding and empathy and interest in autism and ourselves.” 

During the production of “A” Train, Rubicon will partner with The Art of Autism, a nonprofit which empowers and connects individuals within the autism community through participation in the arts. Artwork from talented autistic artists will be on display in The Rose Room and downstairs gallery throughout the entire production. 

Visit or call (805) 667-2900


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