|Deaf Side Story|
Deaf Sharks, Hearing Jets, and a Classic American Musical
Diane Brewer, the theater head at MacMurray College, conceives a West Side Story production in which half of the cast is deaf. She approaches and wins cooperation from the nearby Illinois School for the Deaf (ISD). Brewer does not know what she is getting herself into, especially given that “West Side Story” is already a difficult undertaking for any producer.
The ISD students form the Sharks, the Puerto Rican gang warring with the Angle Jets, who are played by MacMurray students, some of them deaf education majors. Tension is rampant throughout the rehearsal process with crises cropping up daily. But near the end some of the mess is cleared when Brewer brings in a brilliant interpreter who fills the role most crucial to any theater involving signing actors, but which Brewer did not know of before—a sign master.
The musical receives mostly positive reviews. There are questions, however, about the influence it has on the ISD actors themselves, questions writer Mark Rigney does not ask. Most bothersome is how the production team emphasizes the use of whatever residual hearing the ISD students may have, even going as far as insisting that long-discarded hearing aids be used again. Nothing is stated in the book about whether or not Rigney was actually there as an observer but the reader senses that he was not: Rigney’s account is heavily dependent on e-mail messages and accounts from key people. He refers to textbooks for discussions of deaf issues and makes avoidable mistakes, like saying that SimCom is “easy on the eyes.”
The best thing for deaf readers is how “Deaf Side Story” explains in depth the intricacies of musicals: the lyrics, the music, the dancing, the acting. The deaf-related material for hearing readers covers enough ground to help them appreciate basic points. The book is ideal reading for both deaf and hearing theater-lovers.
Mark Rigney is a writer whose stories have appeared in THEMA and The Bellevue Review, and whose plays have been staged at the Foothill Theatre Company, the Utah Shakespeare Festival, and the Alleyway Theatre. He lives in Evansville, IN.
ISBN 978-1-56368-145-5, 6 x 9 paperback, 232 pages
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