#Broadway: "Children of the Lesser God": listen to the silence

By Carolina Vergara @carojournalist

Last year I read that actor Joshua Jackson was going to star in the play "Children of the Lesser God." At that time I made a call to the universe to give me the chance to see a play where the actors use sign language on stage, something that is difficult to see in Chile, the country where I live.

And since the universe is in charge of fulfill what you ask from your heart, I had the opportunity to travel in May to New York and I went to buy tickets at the famous Studio 54 theater to see the play starring Joshua Jackson (The Affair, Fringe) and Lauren Ridloff (who just received a Tony Award nomination for her performance).

What is the play about?

The play was written in 1979 by Mark Medoff and tells the story of a teacher at a school for the deaf, James Leeds (Joshua Jackson), who meets a young, deaf and feisty woman, Sarah Norman (Lauren Ridloff), a former student that now works as a cleaning woman at the school and refuses to use her voice. The love between the two arises and the play shows how love, compassion, difference and paternalism can ruin the communication between two people.

In 2014 I had the privilege of seeing "Cabaret", with Michelle Williams and Alan Cumming, in the legendary theater Studio 54, which in the seventies was the famous New York nightclub.

It's nice to go back to a theater with so much history and see a play like "Children of the Lesser God".

The set design is simple but, I feel that it has the purpose of highlighting the actors and their body language, which is undoubtedly the impressive work of Lauren Ridloff. It should be noted that each gesture, the use of her hands, is seen from the last row of the theater, even on the second floor where I was located. Lauren Ridloff, makes her Broadway debut, as she became part of this production because she was the sign language teacher of director Kenny Leon. The director, not finding his main actress, asked Lauren if she could do the dramatized reading and she did it so well that she got the role.

On the other hand, one is impressed by the tremendous work of the actor Joshua Jackson, who has to maintain two and a half hours of the play, in an extensive work of speaking almost the whole time, since not only does he say his part, but at the same time has to do sign language and translate the sign language of Sarah's character so the public knows what she is pointing out.

The theater is the place where there is a change, an emotion, a thought. The play touches as many current issues as otherness, diversity, placing oneself in the place of the other, which despite being written almost forty years ago, manages to reflect that there are things that have not changed and in which we must work as a society.

One of the most powerful and emotional scenes is when in a discussion between James and Sarah, he asks her to speak and Sarah uses her voice, pure, even visceral, that moved the audience. We are witnesses of Sarah's vulnerability and how hard it is to listen to the other.

A remarkable thing is that the play has screens where the text is written in English and also two people interpret the sign language so deaf people can witness the play.

I was moved. In the end, I felt that the universe had given me a gift, then I discovered that one of the first musicals I saw on my first trip to New York (many years ago) was "Aida", directed by Kenny Leon and it was like a magical act of destiny, that without realizing it had given me the opportunity to see two plays by the outstanding director in two very different moments of my life.

Without a doubt that is the magic of the theater.

Children of the Lesser God

Final Week. Though May 27 Only.

Theater Studio 54. (254 W 54th St, between Broadway and 8th Ave)

Directed by: Kenny Leon

Author: Mark Medoff.

Cast: Joshua Jackson, Lauren Ridloff, Anthony Edwards, Julee Cerda, Treshelle Edmond, Kecia Lewis, John McGinty.