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November 22, 2003

'I am an actress'

From: Vineland Daily Journal, NJ - Nov 22, 2003

Deaf actress, CCC cast both challenged in 'Children of a Lesser God'

Staff Writer;

For the past seven years Kathleen Reese participated in dramatic programs at Praise Tabernacle Church in Egg Harbor Township.

"But they were not big, starring roles," Reese said with a smile.

This time, it's different. The spotlight is on her.

Reese, a 46-year-old deaf Marmora resident, portrays Sarah Norman in the play, "Children of a Lesser God," at Cumberland County College today and Sunday.

"Children of a Lesser God" tells the story of romance and marriage between Norman and James Leeds, played by Vineland actor Paul Jost, a young teacher she meets at a school for the deaf.

Reese auditioned for the show after discovering the role while scouring the Internet and reading Deaf News.

Her husband, Albert, had to push her though.

"I saw what they were looking for but I didn't think this was for me," Reese said during a rehearsal this week with help from her interpreter, Donna Gianno. "But my husband kept saying, 'You can be in anything, and you would be good in this.'"

And so far, so good. Even though Reese didn't know technical theatrical terms, she learned quickly how professional theater is presented to the public.

Cast and crewmembers had to learn quickly, too, by picking up signed English in less than eight weeks.

Jost spent time outside rehearsals researching sign language and got additional tips from Reese, Gianno and Addriana Montalvo of Vineland -- who serves as Reese's interpreter -- as Edna Klein.

"I don't think anyone could claim to be a proficient signer in the amount of time we had, which works well for me because my character is not a good signer," Jost said. "But what I learned is that sign language, like any other language, has its own beauty and dialects that can mean different things."

While American Sign Language interpretations will be given at the performances, the actors will perform signed English. Basic differences between the languages, according to Gianno, are how the syntax and grammar are formed.

Reese helped guide what signs are acceptable in the deaf community to make it understandable to the audience, Jost said.

"It brings both worlds -- the hearing and the deaf -- together," he said.

Reese, who teaches signed English part time in Egg Harbor, said that's what she wants to come out of her performances in the play --some understanding.

"The differences between the deaf and the hearing are just in the ways we communicate," she said. "We can understand each other and I want to educate audiences about the deaf and the hearing through the different situations like you see in the play."

Jost said he is thankful for the challenge.

"As an actor, one of the best tools you have is to listen. I don't have that with Kathy in this play. In an odd way, I'm aware of what it's like to work in silence, and I have to rely on her signing and she has to rely on my inept signing," he said. It has been a beautiful and profound experience for me."

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