Children of a Lesser God

Most productions of Mark Medoff’s pioneering 1979 drama about the romance between a deaf student and her hearing-abled teacher are directed and staged from the point of view of a hearing audience, introduced to the world of the hearing-challenged. Yet, director Jonathan Barlow Lee’s haunting production of the play, staged by Deaf West Theater to celebrate the piece’s 30th anniversary and the epochal role the drama played in the advent of Deaf Theater, is compellingly told from the point of view of the deaf, with those who can hear being subtly poised as outsiders. The play tells the story of beautiful, deaf student Sarah (Shoshannah Stern), a pupil at a school for the deaf, who steadfastly refuses to learn how to communicate — either verbally or through ASL. Although Sarah’s choice exiles her from any contact with the hearing world, the young communications instructor assigned to her, James (Matthew Jaeger), finds her fiery spirit irresistible — and they eventually fall in love. Their romance is ultimately threatened by the stresses of their two hugely different worlds. Though Act 2’s focus on 1970s earnest-revolutionary issues inevitably causes the dramatic momentum to sag, Medoff’s play has aged less in terms of its activist stance for the deaf and more in terms of the tightening of protocol in teacher-student relationships over the decades: The romance between a teacher and his student now actually seems somewhat creepy, and we can’t help but wonder whether James’ kind concerns for his student would be so intense if he didn’t find her so physically attractive. Still, Lee’s production — orchestrated for audiences at all level of hearing ability — dazzles, and the ensemble, encompassing hearing, deaf and hard-of-hearing actors, offers beautiful, subtle acting turns. Stern’s ferocious performance as Sarah is particularly powerful. With the exception of one elementally searing moment, the actress doesn’t utter a sound — yet we’re struck by how much passion and love can be communicated via ASL during her operatic but paradoxically silent performance. Deaf West Theatre, 5112 Lankershim Blvd, North Hollywood; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; thru October 11. (866) 811-4111.
Sun., Sept. 13, 7 p.m.; Thursdays-Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 2 p.m. Starts: Sept. 13. Continues through Nov. 1, 2009


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