by Lynn on May 4, 2016

in The Passionate Playgoer

At Theatre Passe Muraille, Toronto, Ont.

Written by Adam Pottle
Directed by Marjorie Chan
Set, lighting and surtitles designed by Trevor Schwellnus
Projection designer, Cameron Davis
Costumes by Nina Okens
Sound by Richard Lee
Cast: Chris Dodd
Elizabeth Morris

A look into the world of the hearing impaired that raises interesting questions, but needs a deeper exploration and sharper focus.

The Story. Alphonse and Miranda are a loving couple. He’s an accountant and she’s an aspiring actress. He’s deaf and she’s loosing her hearing. Alphonse communicates in sign-language and Miranda communicates in speech when dealing with friends and in sign-language and speech when communicating with Alphonse.

Miranda wants to have a baby. Her biological clock is ticking. Alphonse hesitates. He wants a baby who is deaf so that he can feel comfortable communicating with it. He feels he will be an outsider in his own child’s world if the baby can hear. There is an ultrasound test that can be taken to see if the baby will hear or not. Alphonse has deeper issues with the hearing world. And so the dilemma of what to do is established.

The Production. Designer Trevor Schwellnus has created a simple, pared down world for this play with few props. Two platforms are all that’s needed to act as chairs, a bed etc. The back of the stage has curved sections and a flat back section that is textured. This textured section poses a problem. Because surtitles are projected on the back wall when either Miranda and Alphonse are speaking, the textured section tends to distort the surtitles a bit. I also found the surtitles are not illuminated brightly enough to read. That should be adjusted.

Miranda speaks her lines to Alphonse as well as signs to him. He only signs to her and she verbally replies, giving the gist of his signed comments. So no one misses any of the conversations the dialogue is projected on the back wall in surtitles. We just need those surtitles to be bright enough to read.

Director Marjorie Chan stages her actors in a matter of fact way, moving them sometimes when there is no reason. But this gives the production a sense of activity in a show that really is about dialogue and not action.

Both Chris Dodd as Alphonse and Elizabeth Morris as Miranda are deaf. They are also compelling in their performances. You can sense Alphonse’s frustration in dealing with the many challenges facing him in Chris Dodd’s lively, passionate performance. The emotion is in his hands where his voice is silent, but you also hear the gasp and wheeze as sound sometimes struggles to come out of his mouth. Elizabeth Morris illuminates Miranda’s own fears and frustrations as she loses more and more of her hearing. And of course there is the dilemma of deciding what to do about having a baby and coping with Alphonse’s stubbornness regarding the baby.

Comment. Playwright Adam Pottle knows whereof he speaks regarding the world of the deaf and hearing impaired. He has only some hearing in both ears. He speaks in the ‘flat’ sound of the hearing impaired and lip reads. The world of Ultrasound is a fascinating introduction to a world of which we might not be familiar. While listening to Alphonse speak about his fears: that if the baby can hear he will feel uncomfortable in that world; that sign language and the deaf world will eventually be diluted if the baby can hear; that he does not trust the hearing world, sometimes not even his wife—I hear echoes of the same arguments used when people want to marry outside their faith.

While I admire the glimpse into this world I think the play has some problems that need to be addressed. I can’t believe that the issues of children did not come up before Alphonse and Miranda were married. There is no hint of this in the play. I can’t believe that Alphonse’s insistence that the baby be deaf was not discussed as well. I wonder how successful an actress Miranda is that having a baby, which she tells us she was desperate for, should give her pause when thinking about the acting job she is offered. We need more information on her acting abilities and the stature companies offering the jobs (she does mention one company that could be Stratford, but still we need more information). She makes a drastic decision; is it because of Alphonse or the acting job? It’s not clear and it should be. If it’s because of the job then her whole character is called into question. That there can only be one decision, according to Alphonse and Miranda, seems simplistic. I think Mr. Pottle should delve deeper into the issue.

The politics of deafness in a hearing world is fascinating. I think Adam Pottle has only scratched the surface—still intriguing—but he needs to dig deeper.

A Cahoots Theatre and Theatre Passe Muraille Co-Production.

Opened: May 3, 2016.
Closes: May 15, 2016.
Cast: 2; 1 man, 1 woman.
Running Time: 90 minutes.

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