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Sign Language Studies

American Annals of the Deaf

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Whispers of a Savage Sort: And Other Plays about the Deaf American Experience

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The Setting and the Players

MICHAEL’s world: Smalltown USA, present
SNOOTY’s world: Chicago’s South Side, 1920s
(Everyone is “deaf” so ASL is used as a matter of course)

MICHAEL, a seventh-grader: hard of hearing; SEE/PSE with voice
SNOOTY, the best hit man for hire in Chicago

GRAHAM, his teacher: Hearing; SEE with voice
ALEXIS, a very mysterious woman

BRUNO, class bully: Deaf; ASL/PSE without voice
BRUTE, a second-rate hoodlum

ELAINE, classmate: Deaf; SEE with voice
ELLIE, Snooty’s first girlfriend

COPP, principal: Hearing; voice only

PHIL, a classmate: Deaf; PSE without voice
FIDO, a fourth-rate hoodlum

ANDREW, classmate: Deaf; PSE without voice
ARROW, bartender/hoodlum

OTHERS* PSE/ASL/voice as needed
OTHERS are other actors with no lines in the scene but can be used as “background” or to give the crowd scenes some
        breadth. The more the merrier!

All players except GRAHAM and COPP should wear what seventh-graders would normally wear (T-shirts and jeans); but in Snooty’s world, the more fedora hats and trench coats, the better. (Imaginary trench coats and fedora hats are fine too.) GRAHAM should wear a classy dark outfit with pumps. COPP should wear a navy blue business suit.

Michael and his classmates are seventh-graders who attend classes in a “hearing-impaired resources classroom” (Day school) at an otherwise hearing junior high school.

Classroom desks—or wooden crates—could be arranged for quick utilization to make each scene come alive: They can be turned into desks, chairs, beds, and so on. This can be easily accomplished with a larger cast onstage. Old 78s of Chicago jazz recordings could be played at a very low volume in the background throughout the play.

The phrase “Lights and set change” in stage directions means that the play has become Snooty’s world—or Michael’s—generally in a back-and-forth manner. Snooty’s world could be lit in a film-noirish way with suggestions of lingering smoke; flashlights can be highly effective. Michael’s world could be a little too harshly lit, perhaps by rods of fluorescent light above. Because the desks—or crates—can be moved around in so many ways, set changes can be accomplished at the same time as “lights and set change.” But this is entirely up to the director. There is no intermission.

Because Snooty’s world is rather like a cartoon, stylized stage business (e.g., the way cigarettes and pistols are held) should be used in the fantasy sequences.

The character “Snooty” has no name sign; his name is simply fingerspelled. Also, because most Deaf people find Signing Exact English (SEE) difficult to understand, some incorporation of ASL may prove helpful. Although I haven’t seen the book in years, one may do well to consult Gerilee Gustason and Esther Zawolkow’s Signing Exact English, a dictionary of SEE signs for “translation” suggestions.

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