“I Was Most Alive With You” Shines with a Shadow Cast

 From left, Tad Cooley, Russell Harvard and Marianna Bassham in “I Was Most Alive With You,” by Craig Lucas, at Playwrights Horizons.CreditCreditSara Krulwich/The New York Times

From left, Tad Cooley, Russell Harvard and Marianna Bassham in “I Was Most Alive With You,” by Craig Lucas, at Playwrights Horizons.CreditCreditSara Krulwich/The New York Times

Erin Karll

My journey for Deaf Talent leads me to Playwrights Horizons in New York City. ‘“I Was Most Alive With You” is the work of writer Craig Lucas. It features a Deaf (and deaf) character, and an entire shadow cast that signs the dialogue from a balcony overlooking the action. Lucas was inspired to write this piece, and learn about Deaf culture, after watching actor Russell Harvard. He immersed himself in the language and people, and it shows in this touching and in-depth look into the Deaf World and the world of addiction. Lucas’ hard work pays off with simple references that those who live in the Deaf World will get with ease but gives those who don’t know a small lesson.

Harvard plays “Knox” who has recently fallen in love, is Deaf, Gay, and a recovering alcoholic. All these things he uses to think were bad but now realizes these gifts give him clarity. He is shadowed by Harold Foxx. The play ebbs and flows smoothly from present day to painful flashbacks told by “Knox’s” father “Ash” played by Michael Gaston and shadowed by Seth Gore and his writing partner “Astrid” played by Marianna Bassham and shadowed by Beth Applebaum as they work on their new piece. The pair revisits the events around the last family Thanksgiving dinner, and try to figure out how it could have led to the accident.

“Pleasant” played by Lisa Emery and shadowed by Amelia Hensley is “Knox’s” mother who is struggling personally. She has regrets about language choices made for “Knox” when he was little, and that strains her relationship with her family. “Carla” is “Knox’s” grandmother played by Lois Smith and shadowed by Kalen Feeney. She is trying to hold the family together while keeping a secret. “Mariama” is a ‘friend’ of “Carla’s” who we find out more about as the action unfolds.

“Farhad” played by Tad Cooley and shadowed by Anthony Natale takes the audience on a ride. From charming and flirty ‘Romeo’ type to brutally honest and emotionally vulnerable. Anger, fear, and love lead him through the action and Cooley is a skilled guide. He had me laughing and in tears.

The set and design by Arnulfo Maldonado are perfect for this compelling story. The balcony mimics the stage and allows the shadow actors to follow their character on the main stage with ease. Open captions appeared on the railing of the balcony at certain points when needed in overlapping dialogue or ASL only. My eyes moved between casts without a problem. An audience member sitting next to me said that he wished all theatres would do this, and I couldn’t agree more! Director Tyne Rafaeli did a fantastic job with this talented group of actors. Director of Artistic Sign Language Sabrina Dennison work is stunning. There were many powerful moments where I felt completely immersed in this world thanks to these two.