Children of a Lesser God
By Mark Medoff
Directed by Andrew K. McGill
Review by Kate Barry
Entire contents are copyright © 2018 Kate Barry. All rights reserved.
Ability and disability- what is the difference? In Children of a Lesser God, a speech therapist falls in love with a woman who is deaf and their relationship is put to the test through barriers of language, misunderstanding, and exclusion. Currently on stage at Clarksville Little Theater, this quintessential piece of modern theater combines American Sign Language (ASL) and prose with a challenging tale of adversity in which strides towards change are fought for and gained.
The level of ASL skill displayed by each actor was quite impressive and effortlessly signed. Just as expressive and rich as any verbal language, the cast displayed their hand signs, fingerspelling, and facial expression with ease and fluidity. The ASL skills displayed made for great moments of high drama as characters argue, reveal intimate details of their pasts and struggle to be understood. I extend kudos to Zechariah McKenzie for lending his skills as instructor and interpreter for the production, making it truly accessible for all audience members.
What makes this play so notable is that the story focuses on the experience of those who are Deaf and Hard of Hearing in a hearing world; a perspective that is often misunderstood. As James Leeds, a speech therapist at a school for Deaf students, Wes Yunker brings good intentions to a character that struggles to change the woman he loves and ultimately accepts her. Leeds fights with his own expectations of what should be the norm as he thrusts his desire to teach speech to a woman who is content with using sign language to communicate. Kat Ireland plays Sarah, Leeds’ student turned lover. Ireland’s Sarah is stubborn yet determined as she sticks to her personal truths. Ireland’s performance proves speech is not needed to convey emotional impact, which is proven at the end of the first act in her monologue about sexual abuses she’s suffered.
The play’s strongest moments are found within scenes that display common misconceptions as well as the everyday happenings of the Deaf world. As this is a play about two worlds, this production is clever enough to bring light to situations experienced by those who thrive in both. Whether it is Katie Maras Haulter’s Edna over-enunciating and speaking too loudly to Sarah, a scene involving loud televisions, oven buzzers, and ringing telephones, or Yunker’s slow, muddled signing at the top of the show, these bits are awkward yet exceedingly relatable. Patrick Alred and Brittanni Shafer play Orin and Lydia, two characters with speech disorders affected by their inability to hear. Shafer’s Lydia is a light-hearted comic relief as a student with a crush. Alred’s Orin grows in his ability to speak as his fight for civil rights grows stronger. Chris Haulter’s Mr. Franklin, an unyielding headmaster of the school who is stuck in his old-fashioned way of thinking, matches Orin’s fight.
A notable and commendable aspect of this show is the open staging and blocking of the performance. Within Deaf culture, there is much emphasis on open spaces both in homes, educational settings, and the community. This is reflected in the show with clever lighting and sparse set design as it emphasizes the visual nature of American Sign Language and the isolation experienced by Sarah and Leeds throughout their struggles.
I was very excited to learn that Clarksville Little Theater was going to produce Children of a Lesser God this season. As a former student of ASL and interpreter studies, I was quite curious about how the company would handle the language and subject matter of the piece. I must admit I came into the show with reservations, but these judgments were quickly proven wrong by this moving and poignant production.
Children of a Lesser God
January 12-21, 2018
Clarksville Little Theater
301 E Montgomery Ave
Clarksville, IN 47129-3237
Kate Barry earned her Bachelors in English with a Theater minor from Bellarmine University in 2008. She has worked with many different companies around town including Kentucky Shakespeare Festival, Bunbury Theater, Louisville Repertory Company, Walden Theater, Finnigan Productions and you have probably purchased tickets from her at that little performing arts center on Main Street as well. In 2012, her short play “PlayList” won festival favorite in the Finnigan Festival of Funky Fresh Fun. She has written for LEO Weekly and TheatreLouisville.com as well. Thanks for reading!