“Sign language requires that, first and foremost, you look the other person in the eye. The hands you take in through peripheral vision. There is also a lot of touching involved: to get people’s attention, to make something clear. Signing creates an extraordinary intimacy between people. And an honesty. It is a wonderfully imaginative, pictorial, sensual, humorous language. It is a language that expresses many layers of meaning and feeling.” From Director’s Notes by Pamela Berlin on play “The Loudest Man on Earth”.
I went to see the play with the expectation of learning a thing or two about what the experience of deafness is like; about the prejudices and biases a deaf person might encounter. I did learn; a lot. But I was not prepared to be so entertained, so moved, so deeply engrossed. This play is so deeply human that everyone can relate to it. It is a story of two people, Jordan and Haylee who come together in a chance occurance, discover great chemistry and develop tenderness towards one another. Adrian Blue, an acclaimed director/actor, who is also deaf, plays the role of Jordan, a maverick stage director, and Julie Fitzpatrick plays a curious, creative, and charismatic journalist. They are absolutely superb, as they navigate many challenges, as their hearing and deaf worlds merge and collide, in their journey together. Director Pamela Berlin has done an awesome job with multitude of events, none of which seem unrealistic or disjointed. Special kudos to the stage manager, Jamie D. Mann for quick and creative staging changes to place the events in different times and contexts. Mia Tagano and Cassidy Brown have played a variety of small roles that represent the hearing world, with such depth and character that it makes it hard to believe they are played by the same two people.
While everyone has done a fantastic job, none of it would have come together so beautifully, without a wonderful script by playwright Catherine Rush. Rush who is married to director/actor Adrian Blue, who is deaf, has a deep insight into the characters of Jordan and Haylee, and yet the play is not restricted to these characters. The play explores aspects of Hearing and Deaf culture, with compassion at the core, in addition to exploring the experiences of these two individuals who function simultaneously in three disparate worlds. Their own little world, if left untouched, is fun, funny, endearing, romantic, and sweet. Yet their world rattles and shakes up when it collides with the hearing and deaf worlds, outside of their little universe. When Haylee introduces Jordan to her father, he asks, if Jordan is “Jewish AND deaf-mute”. When Jordan is angry at Haylee’s friend making fun of the sign language, Haylee is furious at his defensiveness saying that it makes it difficult for them to acquire friends who are both hearing and deaf. She insists, that it is important for them to acquire hearing friends. Emphasizing the importance of the connectedness with the majority hearing world, she says, “it is then that we become real, when we are connected”.
This is a beautiful play where the story is told through English, American Sign Language (ASL), and through Visual Vernacular, a performance process that combines ASL, mime, and film technique. Some confusion that emerges initially, from Jordan’s brief on-stage solos, for those of us not familiar with sign language, mirrors the challenges of missed connections, slipped opportunities, and relief with feeling of “all well” when meaning becomes clear. This play is entertaining, tender, very human, and deeply touching. It is a story about being human, of holding on to one’s preferences, of letting go, of embracing differences, of never fully understanding differences; it is a story of love that is universal in its ability to transcend language. For tickets, go to www.theatreworks.org .