Theatre Review: Charles Mee’s Soot and Spit

By: Danielle Desir

During the world premiere of Soot and Spit at New Ohio Theatre, playwright Charles Mee Jr. and Director Kim Weild celebrate the life of visual artist James Castle. James Castle is an American artist born “profoundly deaf and autistic”. Despite his disability, James made art by repurposing sticks and apricot pits to create art tools. He also discovered that by scraping soot from wood-burning stoves and using spit, he could create black ink.

JW Guido and the ensemble of soot and spit. Photo by Nina Wurtzel

JW Guido and the ensemble of soot and spit. Photo by Nina Wurtzel

Since I hadn’t heard of James Castle before the show, Soot and Spit introduced me to this great American “outsider” artist. The show also encouraged me to experience life on the “other” side - living with a disability.

James Castle was from Garden Valley, Idaho. Born two months premature, he was perceived as “profoundly deaf and dumb”. In reality, he was “profoundly deaf and autistic”.

Although he refused to learn how to read, write or sign, he was obsessed with drawing. His art was his mouthpiece. Through art, he translated the world around him and created his own language.

JW Guido and Toussaint Jeanlouis in soot and spit. Photo by Nina Wurtzel


JW Guido and Toussaint Jeanlouis in soot and spit. Photo by Nina Wurtzel

During the show, this was made clear when Toussaint Jeanlouis rips up James’ drawing. In agony, James anguished over his destroyed creation. This wasn’t the only time that James showed emotion in the show. At times, he became extremely frustrated and angry. This sharply contrasts with the joy he experiences when his creations come to life.

Through his life size creations, I learned more about James. I learned that James is observant and witty. He also wants to be loved. More importantly, I saw how James sees himself. Rightly so, he is a unique individual with an exquisite mind.

At the end of the show, an art dealer purchases James’ artwork. Although overlooked for many years, his artwork would gain worldwide recognition.

JW Guido and Alida Rose Delaney in soot and spit. Photo by Nina Wurtzel

JW Guido and Alida Rose Delaney in soot and spit. Photo by Nina Wurtzel

The overarching message of Soot and Spit, never ever give up!

Through unwavering determination, James Castle created nearly 20,000 pieces of art in his lifetime. Inspired to create art by everything around him, I was moved by the show’s ability to capture the perseverance of the human spirit.

Soot and Spit’s inclusive message is unforgettable.

Now on stage through June 17. For more info visit NewOhioTheatre.org.

We were guests at Soot & Spit, however, the opinions are our own.