Restoring a sense or reinforcing audism?
Co-presented with 2012 Gregory Award winner Azeotrope, and directed by Desdemona Chiang and Howie Seago, Sound by Don Nguyen navigates the debates around the cross-over from deafness to hearing in its dramatic unveiling in the life of a thirteen year old girl.
The mixed cast of English and American Sign Language speaking actors, makes the play fully accessible to its audience, along with interpreters, super titles, and listening devices.
Two stories, one of a deaf teenager willing to step into the unknown land of hearing, through the controversial implant surgery, thereby risking the support of her deaf father, and the other of Alexander Graham Bell, exposing his dramatic effort to cure deafness, unfold in inter-changing acts. The two stories, seemingly unrelated, gradually highlight each other; Bell’s story adds footnotes to the main dramatic action relating hearing-impaired Allison’s choice to get implants and how her decision impacts friends and family. The main plot reaches a resolution, whereas the – the Graham Bell plot, the subplot, is left suspended without a resolution. The audience is left to ponder the personal and cultural stakes when an individual traverses the grey zone between two worlds.
The intertwined scene sequence creates an easy rhythm as well as a dynamic use of the set. Since set changes flow gracefully, all audial and set design aspects sync well with the pace on the stage, with good visibility for the audience. The costumes perfectly reflect their era. The Bell couple looks perceptibly antiquated in their acting, costume, and movement, almost like they jumped out of faded photos in albums, as their personal stories haunt the difficult decision-making process involved in crossing-over to the audible world of our times.
The acting vividly engages the audience, supported by stage interpreters and technical aids. Cheyenna Clearbrook perfectly brings out Allison’s shrugging teenage attitudes and hidden anxieties about her decision. George, the deaf father, played by Ryan Schlecht, profoundly displays, in American Sign Language, the paternal fear and frustrations, when his personal and cultural values are being outgrown by his daughter.
Breakdowns in communication are frequently displayed through body language and sound when ASL, as with any language, ceases to communicate between divorced parents. Lindsay W. Evans, the hearing mother, very convincingly relates Barbara’s hopes for her daughter and also her weariness in carrying the burden of guiding Allison in her decision as to whether to get implants.
Richard Nguyen Sloniker, as Graham Bell, is stressed and exhausted by his obsession to completely cure his wife’s deafness before it is too late. Graham Bell’s wife, Mabel is played by Elizabeth Ayers Gibson. Ms. Gibson has had an outstanding career as a sonographer (diagnostic medical imaging). As an active member of the deaf community her presence on the stage successfully illuminates the sad portrait of a wife, having been given the gift of speech by her husband, but left devoid of more pressing personal needs in her marriage. This theme reiterates the irony, spiraling throughout the play, that something is lost in translation, when auditory communication replaces sign language.
Sound, by Don Nguyen, presented by Azeotrope, and ACT LAB, The Bullitt Cabaret700 Union Street, Seattle, WA 98101, ( downtown Seattle) through October 4 at ACT LAB, on Sundays at 2 pm, Fridays and Saturdays and two Thursdays (on September 24 and October 1) at 7.30 pm, and with post-play discussions on September 20 and 27 (Sundays). For tickets, visit www.acttheatre.org or 206.292.7676