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How 'All of Me' Gets Disability Representation Right

By: Christina Trivigno
Date: May 10, 2024

The stars of Laura Winters' new rom-com discuss acting in this groundbreaking Off-Broadway play


The New Group's new romantic comedy, Laura Winters' All of Me, offers everything you expect from the genre. There's a meet-cute, funny flirting and amusing dysfunctional family antics. The would-be lovers, Lucy (Madison Ferris) and Alfonso (Danny J. Gomez), happen to use mobility devices and text-to-speech technology. But as Ferris says, their "disabilities are not the plot because having a disability is not a plot." Instead, the play examines how class affects the lives they're able to lead, but you may be too busy laughing to realize that at first.

TDF Stages talked to Ferris and Gomez about the importance of authentic representation, their touchless sex scene and why comedy truly is hard.

Christina Trivigno: I saw All of Me last week and as a wheelchair user myself, it meant a lot to me to see a romantic comedy centered on two wheelchair users. You've been with this show since its 2022 world premiere at Barrington Stage Company in the Berkshires. How did you first get involved?

Madison Ferris: I met Ashley Brooke Monroe, our director, doing The Glass Menagerie on Broadway. She was the assistant director. After the run she said, 'Hey, I know this playwright, Laura Winters, and she's got a play. I want you to do a reading.' That was in 2017 and I've been 'reading' it ever since. Every time, Laura would do these massive rewrites and it just got better and better.

Danny J. Gomez: I was injured in 2016, and I started acting again in 2018. So in 2019, I was just kind of taking whatever came my way. Then this audition came in and it was so different. The first reading I was part of was at the Drama League. To be honest, I was terrified because I'd never done theatre before, and I just felt so out of place. But once I got to know Madison and Laura and Ashley, it was really easy.

Trivigno: What is your favorite part of playing your respective characters?

Ferris: The first thing that comes to mind is the humor. Lucy is just so fresh and so funny and so dry and sarcastic. But she uses humor purposefully to deflect painful moments or diffuse uncomfortable situations. It's both a weapon and a way to get by in the world. So the few moments when she's not telling a joke are very impactful and very telling of how serious they are.

Gomez: I love that Alfonso literally wears his heart on his sleeve. All he has is his facial expressions and emotions. He's really scientific and shy. I'm actually really shy on the inside, too, and I like that I get to play that through Alfonso. He loves being in this situation where he's falling for this beautiful, quick-witted woman.

Trivigno: One of my favorite things about the show is that it doesn't lean into inspiration porn. Your characters are sassy and make mistakes and stand up for themselves. Are those qualities you look for when taking on projects?

Gomez: There's a fine line. I don't mind when someone says I inspire them. But when it's overly done, I know what you're saying, when it's hitting you over the head, I think that's the bad way of showing it. After I was injured, I needed someone to inspire me to live as a newly disabled person. And I found that through social media and seeing other people with disabilities living their lives and doing all these amazing things. I don't mind if someone tells me, 'You inspired me when I saw you on stage, you inspired me to live my dreams.' But you're right, in this play we don't do that. Take our disabilities away and it's just a love story.

Ferris: With two dysfunctional families! What I really love about this play is that Laura has been so fierce about making it accurate to our experiences as disabled people. Her writing is so naturalistic when it comes to the absolute honesty of having a disability. But that is not the plot of the play because having a disability is not a plot. It's woven into the story of us falling in love, me fighting with my mom, me apologizing to my sister. I think that's why so many people are responding to the show. Everyone has been in one or more of these circumstances.

Trivigno: On the topic of inspiration: Do you recall the first time you saw someone with a disability in a movie or a TV show or on stage?

Ferris: No. I mean, they probably didn't have a disability. They were just playing it.

Trivigno: Yeah, authentic representation is even harder to find.

Ferris: That's one of the reasons why I was like, maybe I shouldn't be an actor because I didn't see anyone.

Gomez: I remember seeing the original X-Men movie and Professor X was rolling around in a wheelchair. I was not disabled at that time, so I didn't think twice about whether the actor was disabled or not. Now when I see someone in a wheelchair on TV, I immediate Google to see if the person is disabled. I won't even watch the show if they don't cast someone with a disability. I always think, I know so many disabled actors who could have played that part!

Ferris: Yeah, I'm less angry about previous work. I'm more angry about current work.

Trivigno: You need to know better now. These conversations have been happening for a while. The first time I remember seeing a person with a disability in media was in a cartoon: The Transformers. One of the human friends of the Autobots was a wheelchair-using mechanic.

Ferris: Just another person. That's what I love.

Trivigno: What inspired you to become actors?

Ferris: Probably being an only child and needing a lot of attention! My second-grade teacher was the first person to say, 'You should be an actor,' because I was so animated as a child. I enjoyed doing plays for fun in middle and high school. But I had this fear about making a career out of it. I fell in love with it even more in college. I was accepted into the theatre program. Then I did a showcase, got an agent. All these little steps. It came with a lot of pessimism, but there has always been this gnawing feeling in the back of my brain that this is what I was going to do. And, luckily, I'm bad at everything else.

Gomez: Same! For me, I didn't decide to pursue acting until my early twenties. But as a kid I always mimicked or emulated the characters that I saw, like Rocky and the Karate Kid. When I saw Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, I went home and made nunchucks out of toilet paper rolls. At first, I never thought oh, I could do that for a living. Then it just came out of desperation because I didn't know what I wanted to do. I was living in New Orleans and the city was starting to swallow me up. I was working on Bourbon Street and there was all this partying going on around me. One day I went home and thought, I'm sick of this. I need to do something. I actually started acting for all the wrong reasons. I watched this show Entourage about a movie star and his entourage, and I wanted that lifestyle. I soon realized that I really needed to work for this. When I got to LA there was so much competition that it made me pessimistic. It wasn't until my accident that I really started focusing on giving it a go. I think I needed all this life experience to finally get me on the path where I'm at now.

Trivigno: Your characters deliver almost all their lines via text-to-speech technology. How does that impact your approach to acting?

Ferris: Oh, it changes it entirely! I said this last night, I wouldn't necessarily put on my résumé that I'm a physical comedy actor. But this show forces me to be quite specific with my physicality and my timing. If I'm not precise, it doesn't work.

Gomez: Before my accident, falling was one of my specialties, running into doors and stuff like that. As Alfonso, I don't speak and I only use one arm. I had to learn a whole new way of acting, all through my face. I also learned that my chair was actually a way I could communicate. How fast I use it, how slow, that was all part of the dialogue. Every day we find new things. I accidentally bumped into her chair one time, and it made the point that I was making much deeper. It's really interesting when you can't use your voice how you have to find other ways to communicate. I think it's made me a better actor.

Trivigno: The text-to-speech aspect of the show heightens that very sexy scene you guys have, because there are these silences that create anticipation. Can you talk a bit about that scene and audience's reactions to it?

Ferris: Yeah, it's almost like sexting out loud. That's what it is. It's audible sexting. The audience is usually roaring with laughter until that moment, and then they get very quiet. Is this really happening? Oh my god! You can tell they're having a lot of feelings because they'll laugh at anything just to have that release of pressure.

Gomez: I think it gets really emotional seeing two people who can't really physically touch and talk. I think it's just such a meaningful moment, we find a way to connect. There's silence and tension. You can just feel it. It's one of my favorite moments.

Trivigno: In addition to romance, All of Me explores class issues. Your characters are deeply affected by your respective family's social status and expectations. Have other people's expectations for you impacted your lives?

Gomez: It's so tough being Latino and disabled. I'm immediately in this weird box, especially as an actor. Before my accident, I was only going out for Latino roles. Now I feel like it's even more limiting.

Ferris: Are you asking if anyone's ever been like, you can't be an actor?

Trivigno: If that is an example you have, sure. Your show opens at a medical facility, and I can tell you, I often go to the doctor, and I have to tell them three times that I don't have a caretaker. I would expect people in the medical field to have met a wide breath of humanity, and yet I have to sit there and convince them that I have a job, I own a dog, I have my own apartment. On the flip side, I had parents who built a ramp for me to get in and out of the house on my own. There are definitely ways in which other people's actions influence your life.

Gomez: I get that in the hospital. People always ask who I live with and whether someone takes care of me. I run into stuff like that a lot where people assume we can't do anything for ourselves or that we can't work.

Ferris: Yeah, it's kind of coded in a lot of my random exchanges with strangers, which is exhausting. There's a moment in our play where I say four people came up to us in Starbucks asking if we needed help. I get very tired of having to accommodate strangers' feelings. I know they're coming from a place of generosity, and I know it's hard for them to approach me sometimes. But it gets so exhausting being asked every day, 'Can I help you? Can I have your number? Have you heard about Jesus?' Those are the three big ones.

Gomez: Are you disabled? Didn't someone ask you that?

Ferris: Yeah, like, the second question someone asks me is, 'So what's wrong with you? What's your disability?' Even people who have disabilities! They're just trying to connect because they want to talk to me. The really shitty thing is I love talking to strangers. But I'm trying to accommodate them so they don't feel bad about what they're doing.

Trivigno: I've gone on so many dates where the second question is, 'So, can you have sex?' Not the kind of thing an able-bodied person experiences!

Gomez: Don't you always know when it's coming up in the conversation? You always know.

Trivigno: It's awful. And you have to make them feel like they're not asking something inappropriate. So, last question: Where do you see yourself in the future? And do you have any dream roles?

Gomez: Honestly, I just want to be consistently working and respected in this industry. My goals before were to be famous and have this entourage. Now I just want to work to support myself and my mom, my family. I also want to show the industry that people with disabilities can act their asses off. There's a whole community of people that can do this.

Ferris: I would really like to play Jean in Dead Man's Cell Phone—just putting it out there. And the playwright, Sarah Ruhl herself has said I should do that. I think I often get cast in dramas, and what I love so much about All of Me is that I get to work on a comedy. I just love the challenge of comedy. It's so much harder than making myself cry on stage.

This interview has been lightly edited for length and clarity.


TDF MEMBERS: At press time, discount tickets were available for All of Me. Go here to browse our latest discounts for dance, theatre and concerts.

Christina Trivigno is the Director of Digital Strategy for TDF. She has more than 10 years of experience working in the digital space and a lifetime of experience as a disability advocate. She has spoken and written about accessibility at organizations around the country, addressing topics such as transportation, reasonable accommodation, digital accessibility and access at the theatre. She was proud to marry her passions with the launch of TheatreAccess.NYC.