October 19, 2006

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Children of a Lesser God brilliantly played
Deaf characters are portrayed by hearing actors
By Heidi Masek hmasek@hippopress.com

Bedford Off-Broadwayís production of Children of a Lesser God was strikingly well done, but I write this from the perspective of someone who can hear and is unacquainted with deaf culture.

Tom Lianza, technical director and president of the BOB board, admitted at the Friday, Oct. 13, opening that he almost threw out director Tim Stanley for suggesting the script, which required the cast to learn American Sign Language, deaf speech patterns and culture. Iím glad he didnít.

Bedford Off-Broadway reported earlier that the deaf community protested the use of hearing actors. It would be understandable, given that the play stems from a true story about deaf people suing a school for the deaf for refusing to hire deaf teachers.

I canít make a judgment call on whether the signing or body language was correct. But I was struck by the castís portrayal of a couple trying to come to terms with a wall that they slowly, painfully realized would always be between them.

Gina Carballo played Sarah Norman, a totally deaf young woman who works as a maid in the boarding school for the deaf that was her alma mater. Anthony Goes performed as James Leeds, and the scenes are his memories strung together. The two were a delight to watch. Goes has performed the role previously, and has a BFA in Performance Concentration from Salem State College. Carballo studied theater at UMass-Lowell and has performed with many area troupes.

Sarah is strong, hardened by a long battle with the hearing and speaking world. James is a Peace Corps veteran and speech teacher, taken with Sarahís independent spirit. The backdrop is the crusade of student Orin Dennis, played by Dylan Gamblin, who wants to sue the school for not hiring deaf teachers.

Mark Medoffís script uses sign and witty, insightful dialogue to explore limitations and frustrations in relationships and society. The majority of sign is translated by James, but not all. In that way the hearing audience is forced to pay closer attention and also forced, at least for a second, to feel left out and clueless.

I was extremely impressed by the show, the acting, as well as the subject matter. Thereís no tidy ending, no clear delineation of right and wrong. Children of a Lesser God is a portrait of emotions, from elation to depression to anger, in which some battles are won, some are lost and winning might just bring more complications. Carballo doesnít speak but makes the hearing audience understand plenty.

The actors did not tackle the show without special assistance. The script was written in English so Rayne Coleman translated it into sign and coached Carballo. Ann and Scott Jones and Mary Golding coached the cast in ASL, and the Jones coached the cast in deaf culture. Speech-language pathologist Cam McGurk, who also teaches about speech and language development at Rivier College, coached actors Dylan Gamblin and Lanea Ritrovato in deaf speech patterns and also acted, doing an admirable job for not having done so since college.

Deaf or hearing-impaired audience members, feel free to comment. E-mail hmasek@hippopress.com.

Children of a Lesser God will continue at the Bedford Old Town Hall, Meetinghouse Road, Friday, Oct. 20, and Saturday, Oct. 21, at 8 p.m. Tickets cost $10.


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