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New York Deaf Theatre
Credit: Conrado Johns

I was born clinically deaf. My mother, a nurse and homemaker, needed a solution to protect my hearing aids,  transistors and wires from my tiny, inquisitive hands. She designed a little blue jacket for me to wear on which she sewed two small, strategically placed pockets onto the back of my shoulders; into these she put the transistors, and, after crossing the wires behind my neck so I couldn’t reach them, she topped off my towhead with a matching blue “bonnet” to cover my ears, again to keep the hearing aids out of reach from my wandering fingers. There’s not a picture of me before the age of two where I’m not wearing this dandy little outfit.

Some time after my second birthday I began screaming when I heard loud noises. My father, a WWII Marine ace pilot, personally flew me to the specialist in Chicago for a check up. The doctor told my father, “Do you believe in miracles?” My dad, no stranger to miraculous second chances after having survived wars and death, replied “Yes sir, I do.” “Well,” the doctor said, “your son can hear.”

Although I have no memory of my deafness as an infant, my knowledge of it has always made me more cognizant of the world’s deaf citizens and their accomplishments. So it was with pleasure that I attended the New York Deaf Theatre’s (NYDT) production of Maple and Vine, the 2011 satirical and evocative play by Pulitzer Prize finalist Jordan Harrison.

Credit: Conrado Johns

In this story a mixed race couple, Katha (Christina Marie) and Ryu Nakata (C.J. Malloy) move to a 1950’s reenactment community to escape their city lives and the memory of their lost unborn child. Influential neighbors Dean (Christopher Corrigan) and Ellen (Liarra Michele) inspire them to commit to their new world fully, although the existence of community member Roger (Dickie Hearts) causes a “disruption” in the authenticity of their new world.

The actors in this production lack a certain polish, but they more than make up for it with an earnestness and passion they demonstrate in their roles. Corrigan is the most organic of the troupe, but all show a strong commitment to the material. The real star of the evening is the play itself, which cleverly shines a light on racism, discrimination and homophobia without too heavy a hand.

The vast majority of the production is signed in ASL (American Sign Language), with the dialog captioning projected on the walls behind or to one side of the actors. Regrettably, reading the dialog was akin to reading subtitles of a foreign movie, taking away focus from the actors faces. The few scenes where one actor spoke what the other actor signed was a more effective way to convey the script.

Credit: Conrado Johns

Overall, a visit to these ‘burbs is heartily recommended.

Maple and Vine runs May 11 – 27 with performances Monday & Wednesday – Saturday at 7PM; and Saturday & Sunday at 2PM.  The Flea is located at 20 Thomas Street between Church and Broadway. For tickets/more information, call The Flea Box Office (212-226-0051), visit The Flea’s website or NYDT.

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