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January 22, 2004

Deaf Access stages 'Tales From India'

From: Baltimore Sun, MD - Jan 22, 2004

Baltimore-born playwright/actor/director Willy Conley has two new productions: The first is a 3-month-old son named Clayton Lee, and the second is a play titled Tales From India, which debuts Saturday, produced by Imagination Stage's Deaf Access Company in Bethesda.

Conley, who is deaf, wrote via e-mail that the play is based on three Indian folk tales. The plot focuses on a young girl determined to save her village's banyan trees, which are threatened when the maharajah orders his army to chop them down and use the wood in his fort.

The play is Conley's second commission from Imagination Stage, a young people's theater whose Deaf Access Company, he said, features "a mix of teen-aged actors who are deaf, hard-of-hearing and hearing," including some hearing actors with deaf parents.

"I would want my son to take theater classes here because he is hearing and would be involved in a bilingual-bicultural environment that includes children who are deaf like my wife and I, and children who have deaf parents like himself," Conley said.

The production of Tales From India is "highly visual," incorporating shadow puppets, movement, dance and "mudras" - "Indian hand gestures that symbolize different things in life, like animals, nature, earth elements, and so forth," he said.

Tales From India and new fatherhood aren't all that Conley is up to. An associate artist at Center Stage and an associate professor at Washington's Gallaudet University, he is planning to take a sabbatical in the fall to complete an anthology of plays by hearing-impaired playwrights. He also hopes to write "a small, fun how-to-do manual on mounting a sign-language theater production," a frequent subject of inquiries to the Gallaudet theater department.

Before that, however, he will direct the university's spring production - Ray Bradbury's The Martian Chronicles. It's a prospect Conley finds "pretty funny, given all of the hoopla about Mars that is happening now."

Tales From India will be performed at Imagination Stage, 4908 Auburn Ave., Bethesda, at 1 p.m. and 3 p.m. Saturdays and 7:30 p.m. Feb. 13, through Feb. 15. Tickets are $9. Call 301-280-1660, TTY 301-718-8813.

Copyright © 2004, The Baltimore Sun