Friday, March 20, 2015

Review by Al Chase: The Taste of Sunrise

Some Things Are So Beautiful They Do Not Need Sound

photo by Craig Bailey/Perspective Photo

My heart is full and my head is spinning as I sit down to capture my thoughts and emotions after having attended the opening performance of "The Taste of Sunrise - Part Two of The Ware Trilogy" by Suzan Zeder.  This play serves as a prequel to "Mother Hicks," which was presented recently by Emerson Stage.  You may want to take a moment to read my review of that play using the link below.

In this play, the playwright fills in the back story of Tuc.  We learn how he became deaf after a bout with scarlet fever that almost took his life.  We learn of his struggles to communicate with his father, the mixed blessing of his years at the deaf school in Carbondale, and his return home to be with his dying father.  Wheelock Family Theatre is hosting the second segment of this World Premiere event - the first time that all three plays in the Ware Trilogy have been produced in the same city.  All three of the plays are performed bilingually in English and American Sign Language (ASL).

If this is Tuc's play, then it is also certainly Elbert Joseph's play.  He is the deaf actor who portrays Tuc. We see his words projected on the upstage wall, we hear his words being spoken by Ethan Hermanson and Cliff Odle, who also plays Tuc's father.  And Mr. Joseph conveys his words with ASL.  As effective as these triple means of communication may be, they are almost redundant.  For the actor's expressions and movement and stage presence are so compelling and so clear that there is never any doubt what thoughts and feelings and intentions he is radiating.  This is one of the finest performances by an actor I have seen on a Boston stage.

 Suzan Zeder has created something special in this trilogy.  At one level she is recounting the history of a particular community - Ware, Illinois.  At a more significant level, she is addressing the common human hunger for a sense of belonging to a community.  Tuc is the central figure desperately striving to connect and to fit in and to communicate, but there are many other characters in the trilogy whose longing is similar.  At another level, the plays recount the bumpy history of the efforts by the deaf community to define itself despite the well-meaning machinations of educators who "know what we are doing" who forbid the use of gestures or signs because they believed it would stand in the way of learning to read lips and express ideas orally.  At the end of the day, Tuc manages to create his own community - his own family, not bound by genetic ties or geographic propinquity, but forged by a mutual desire for meaningful connection and communication across formidable barriers.

At a crucial juncture near the end of the play, Tuc and Nell Hicks are thrown together and needing to depend upon one another.  But he is deaf and communicates in signs - what Nell calls "air pictures."  And Nell is hearing and does not understand Tuc's signs.  They reach out to one another and plead "Teach me - Teach me - Teach me!"  Nell screams the message in words; Tuc screams in gestures and signs.  And they begin to teach one another. As the level of their connection and communication deepens, Tuc asks Nell, "What does the sunrise sound like?"  Nell ruminates for a moment, and then responds with the answer: "Some things are so beautiful they do not need sound."

The same things must be said of Mr. Joseph's performance.  It was so beautiful that it did not need sound.

 In leaving my seat following the standing ovation and the deaf community's enthusiastic waving of hands to indicate applause, I found myself part of an instant community.  It was the community of those of us - dozens of men and women - who needed to pause, remove our glasses and wipe the tears from our eyes so that we could see to find our way out of the theater.

Go see this show and be moved as we were.

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