It is the story of a speech therapist at a school for the deaf who falls in love with a young woman, a former student at the school, who has now retreated into its corridors staying on as house cleaner. She, Sarah Norman (played by the exquisite Lauren Ridloff) has chosen a job far away from the hearing and speaking world. She is pure deaf. Meaning she will never hear, not even with the help of a hearing aid. The school exists to assist those who are unable to hear, learn to speak. Thus enabling them to integrate into the hearing and speaking world. Sarah’s rebellion against that integration has created a shell around her too tough to crack.
Through the journey of the play we find that the shell is only a veneer to cover the complicated and confused young woman inside. She meets James Leeds (Joshua Jackson in an extraordinary feat of acting), the new speech therapist, who’s unconventional means of teaching, are to the students a delight and to the faculty (Anthony Edwards) an unpleasant distraction. Sarah and James fall in love and that love is the doing and undoing of them. Sarah’s voice heard in the speaking world is James’ voice. He is her translator, interpreting to others what her signs and body language are saying. However even as he interprets, James continues to demand that she speak, Speak, SPEAK! But her hands and body language already say so much.
American Sign Language (ASL) is a beautiful and intricate language; using not just the hands of the speaker, but the body and the face. So when we watch Sarah sign and then James translate we know that parts are missing. His words are not as true to what she is trying to convey as her signing is. And Sarah knows as well. James’ motivation is that he wants her to be a part of her world and also be a part of his. In the culminating moment, when Sarah finally lets her voice be heard, the moment is so powerful that the audience held their collective breath.
Joshua Jackson has a difficult role as both actor and translator, and he is simply put, wonderful. He makes it all look so easy. All of it; the acting, the signing (he had to learn for the part). Lauren Ridloff is a powerhouse of raw emotion and honesty. She is so incredibly strong and beautiful. If she were in a standoff with a lion, my bet would be on Ridloff. Not because she would over-power the creature, but because she would show no fear and use her charm and cunning to best him. The supporting cast Anthony Edwards, John McGinty, Kecia Lewis, Treshelle Edmond and Julee Cerda are on mark and lovely.
This is a play about falling in love despite the hurdles and barriers of language and voice and the need to be heard. The signing is so amazing that when the characters do simple mimes of opening windows and doors, those movements come across as awkward and jarring compared to the complex moves of ASL. Those mimes felt out of place.
As did the set; a cold maze of white door frames and white tree trunks jutting up into the rafters all bathed in blue lighting. A busy set that took me away from the words being said and signed.
Five of the actors are making their Broadway debut. Welcome Lauren, Anthony, Joshua, Julee and John. Welcome and stay a while. We have conversations to continue.
Children of a Lesser God by Mark Medoff, directed by Kenny Leon
With: Joshua Jackson, Lauren Ridloff, Anthony Edwards, Kecia Lewis, Julee Cerda, Treshelle Edmond, John McGinty
Set Design: Derek McLane, Costume Design: Dede Ayite, Lighting Design: Mike Baldassari, Sound Design: Jill BC Du Boff, Director of Artistic Sign Language: Alexandria Wailes
There is Special Accessibility: Audio description and captioning technology will be available at the theater. Reservation for the technology is not required, however, guests are encouraged to arrive at the theatre 30 minutes prior to curtain to allow time for set-up. A driver’s license or photo ID will be required to check out a device.
And For select performances, ASL interpreters will be provided for the play’s spoken dialogue. These are the currently scheduled ASL interpreted performances: 4/14 eve, 4/25 eve, 5/4 eve, 5/11 eve, 6/13 mat, 6/15 eve, 7/5 eve, 7/21 eve, 8/8 mat, 8/30 eve