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A CurtainUp Berkshire Review
Children of a Lesser God

For all my life I have been the creation of other people. — Sarah
Lesser God
Lauren Ridloff and Joshua Jackson (Photo by Matthew Murphy)
The 1980 award-winning Children of a Lesser God by Mark Medoff has been revived in a stunning production at Berkshire Theatre Group's Fitzpatrick Main Stage. In 1986 it became a film starring Marlee Matlin and James Hurt, but it is in a theater that this story is most heartfelt and immediate.

In a world where media and communication is paramount, what is it that deaf people experience? And how condescending is it for the hearing to feel that the spoken word is more dynamic or profound than the American Sign Language which Sarah Norman (Lauren Ridloff) can deliver faster than most people can begin to formulate a thought.

The play continues to pose questions about communication and partnership, even though it is ostensibly a compelling love story that challenges an audience to examine how humans relate and connect to one another.

James (Joshua Jackson) a speech therapist at a residential school finds Sarah to be a challenge as a student, but is not immune to her beauty and feistiness. Soon the teacher/student relationship has been bridged and they are locked in a layered philosophical tug-of-war between the hearing and deaf worlds. Their love story holds the audience in its grip as they struggle to relate honestly and emotionally while enmeshed in the war over signing vs. spoken verbalization.

Lauren Ridloff's Sarah is a commanding presence whose every gesture, eye movement and pose signals the depth of her soul. Without uttering a word she captures James and the audience's heart. She would be a force no matter the play she appeared in.

Sarah enchants James who speaks and signs simultaneously translating his and other's thoughts with such agility that we almost feel as if we are fluent in ASL as well. The seamless dialogue and action succeeds in combining and exploring all of the complexities underlying human expectations through speech.

Kecia Lewis as Sarah's estranged mother does not want to be drawn into Sarah's current struggle having failed at truly understanding her as a youngster. Mrs. Norman is as defensive and as hard-headed as her daughter. Lewis's mother figure is sympathetic as one who struggles to communicate, as most parents do with so-called “normal” children, but is even more defeated by the problems of a deaf child. She has given up.

John McGinty as Orin is Sarah's friend and an agitator for more autonomy in this school for the hearing impaired. The students feel marginalized by society's views and patronized by the staff, especially Stephen Spinella as snide Mr Franklin, the elitist Head of the School whose questionable compassion barely masks his arrogance.

Treshelle Edmond as Lydia, a lusty young student with eyes on James good comedic timing. Julee Cerda (Edna Klein) is a well-meaning lawyer called in by Owen to present the students' demands. Like most newcomers to the deaf world, she makes mistakes in underestimating their abilities. The supporting cast is excellent and adds texture to the competing viewpoints which are driving a wedge between Sarah and James.

Derek Mclane's setting is simplicity itself. Four chairs, a couple of benches, three door frames, two columns and no walls, colored in an almost mystical blue-gray allow for actors' unencumbered movement and the audience's imagination as the various elements serve in place of realistic set pieces. The purpose of stage lighting is to complement the set and to focus attention on specific playing areas while invoking dramatic tones, all done so well by designer Mike Baldassari.

Tony award-winning director Kenny Leon has staged the play with grace and insight. The blocking is fluid given the openness of the set. While the play could become soap opera melodrama, he controls his actors' emotional development so that what they say/sign is honest, and comes from their attitudes and beliefs. He follows the arc of the play's structure and adhere's to Medoff's thematic ideas.

There are signers for the hearing impaired at both sides of the stage throughout the performance. Children of a Lesser God is a challenging and touching play for people of both worlds.





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PRODUCTION NOTES
Children of a Lesser God
By Mark Medoff
Directed by Kenny Leon
Cast: Lauren Ridloff (Sarah Norman) Joshua Jackson (James Leeds) John McGinty (Orin Dennis) Stephen Spinella (Mr. Franklin) Kecia Lewis (Mrs. Norman) Treshelle Edmond (Lydia) Julee Cerda (Edna Klein)
Scene design: Derek McLane
Costume design: Dede M., Ayite
Lighting design: Mike Baldassari
Sound design: Nevin Steinberg
Stage Manager: Kamra A. Jacobs
Director of Artistic Sign Language: Alexandria Wailes
Running Time: 2 hours, 40 minutes including 1 intermission
Berkshire Theatre Group, Fitzpatrick Main Stage, Stockbridge, MA
From 6/22/17; opening 6/24/17; closing 7/22/17
Reviewed by Gloria Miller at June 27 performance


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