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May 26, 2004

Less is more in play starring deaf actress

From: City Pulse - Lansing,MI,USA - May 26, 2004


Mark Medoff's Tony-Award-winning drama, "Children of a Lesser God," presented this weekend only by Hypocrites Theater Co. at LCC's Dart Auditorium, is not often done, for one very important reason:

The lead role requires a good actress who is also deaf. (Well of course you could do it with a hearing actress, but that would be like putting white actors in blackface in "A Raisin in the Sun.")

"It took us the better part of a year to cast this," says HTC co-founder Katie Bush. Although production had been hoped for earlier, "We couldn't do the play until we had the right actors. We're very fortunate to have April Lind-bergh of Royal Oak, who's been deaf since birth, and Kevin Cra-mer of Grand Ledge, who's a full-time in-terpreter and sign-language teacher."

The play is set at a school for the deaf, where the teacher James (Cramer), encounters Sarah, a maid at the school, and tries to teach her to speak. Perhaps inevitably, there is also an element of romance.

"Hearing people may not realize the fact that the deaf have their own culture," Bush says. "They have their own way of communicating through sign language and are fiercely proud of that.

"However well-intentioned, our society has placed an emphasis on enabling deaf people to speak. And that's what's caused anxiety for the deaf, that it's killing their culture. This play presents both sides of that struggle."

"Children" was written some 25 years ago for Phyllis Frelich, a deaf actress who coincidentally was back on Broadway earlier this month, conversing in sign language with a gorilla (played by Andre de Shields of "The Full Monty") in "Prymate."

Marlee Matlin shot to stardom in the 1986 film version, winning an Oscar and moving on to hearing-based roles in films and television. (You can't really count Jane Wyman, then Mrs. Ronald Reagan, who also won an Oscar for her mute performance in the 1948 film "Johnny Belinda." But that was how Hollywood did such things at the time.)

Bush emphasizes that "this play is very different from the movie. While there are fewer characters seen, we've also expanded the set. The script only calls for three benches, but we felt the production needed a stronger visual element."

Also in the show are Jesse Deardorff-Green, Trish Kowslowski, Barb Stauffer, the ubiquitous Steve Shelton and Bush, who began at LCC as a theater major, then became interested in sign language, and saw this play as a perfect blend of the two.

All performances will be sign-language-interpreted. Hearing audience members need not be concerned about missing any of Sarah's lines as they're all voiced by James.

----- 'Children of a Lesser God' Written by Marc Medoff and presented by the Hypocrites Theater Co. at LCC's Dart Auditorium this weekend only, May 28-30, with Fri.-Sat. shows at 8 p.m. and Sunday performances at 2 and 8 p.m. All seats are $10 and can be reserved by calling (517) 372-0945.

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