This production feels timeless. Set in the late 1970s some of the costumechoices (Dede M. Ayite) did date the piece, but could also could be looked at as retro. Until mentioned in the plot, and with some sign choices, I assumed it was updated and taking place now. This proves the themes of oppression and equality that dominate the play are as prevalent today as they were when it was written by Mark Medoff.
The story follows a speech therapist who begins work at a residential institute and falls in love with a woman who has decided to continue to live there. Deaf culture is respectfully and truthfully shown by Director Kenny Leon. I chuckled at the times 'James Leeds' had to stop signing and shake his hands off. Been there, done that.
As is the case with professional productions that are bilingual this production has hired a director of artistic sign language. Alexandria Wailes was recently seen on stage in the Deaf West revival of Spring Awakening. In the talkback after the show she explained the planning that went into some of the signs. Teaching certain actors confidence as if they had been signing for years, and deciding on specific sign based on the time the play was set and the character's language level. The ASL was clear and touching and was aided by a caption screen and interpreters, truly making this production accessible. The minimalistic set (Derek McLane) and beautiful lighting (Mike Baldassari) perfectly works with the quick transitions of the play.
Joshua Jackson rakes in the respect points from me for his work as James Leeds. He nails the finer points of the play where he is communicating in two different languages, sometimes in the third and second person and not for his character. Let that sink in for a second, because the difficulty of the language barrier would be a challenge, but the topics covered by the show are deep and emotional and Jackson delivers on every level. Turning on the charm and the anger during the legendary arguments between James and Sarah Norman (Lauren Ridloff) completed the amazing chemistry between Jackson and Ridloff. Lauren Ridloff played Sarah with an underlying strength of trying to figure it all out, and showing those she loves that she can handle it on her own. John McGinty could lead me into any revolution as the self-proclaimed leader of the school Orin Dennis, powerful and witty. Treshelle Edmond took the character of Lydia and made it her own. Flirty, but embarrassed when caught Edmond had some funny one liners that made the audience chuckle.
Rounding out the amazingly talented and diverse cast is Stephen Spinella (Mr. Franklin) the principal of the school, Kecia Lewis (Mrs. Norman) 'Sarah's' mom, and Julee Cerda (Edna Klein) the lawyer hired by 'Orin'.
I would recommend this show to anyone who likes good powerful theatre, and wants to expand their world a little bit. Children of A Lesser God runs at the Berkshire Theatre Group in Stockbridge MA until July 22nd. Please visit berkshiretheatregroup.org for ticket and show information.
Photo: Matthew Murphy