Sweet Nothing in My Ear

Stephen Sachs has created a relationship-shattering struggle between a hearing father, and his non-hearing wife over whether their deaf 6-year-old son should have an operation that could restore partial hearing. Director Sachs guides an ensemble of accomplished hearing and nonhearing actors who purport to examine the struggle between the worlds of the hearing and the deaf.

With:
Cast: Bob Kirsh (Dan), Terrylene (Laura), Gianni Manganelli (Adam), Jennifer Massey (voice of Laura/Pam), John Benitz (Dr. Weisman/voice of Dan), Elizabeth Barrett (Barbara, voices of Sally, Adam, Dr. Walters), Bernard Bragg (Max), Cal Bartlett (voice of Max, Dr. Flynt), Freda Norman (Sally), Vikee Waltrip (Dr. Walters).

Stephen Sachs has created a relationship-shattering struggle between a hearing father, Dan, and his non-hearing wife,Laura, over whether their deaf 6-year-old son should have an operation that could restore partial hearing. Director Sachs guides an ensemble of accomplished hearing and nonhearing actors (performing in American Sign Language with voice interpretation) who purport to examine the struggle between the worlds of the hearing and the deaf and the “conflict between medical technology and cultural values.” But Sachs fails to establish a plausible argument that would justify Laura’s and her militantly deaf parents’ vehement objections to Dan’s desire to give his son the ability to live in both worlds.

Bob Kirsh’s Dan and Terrylene’s Laura are a thoroughly attractive, vibrant couple who exude passion and respect for one another, as well a tangible love for their son Adam, played with an appealing sensitivity by deaf actress Terrylene’s real-life son, Gianni Manganelli.

Through their expressive communicative skill with sign language, as well as the powerfully intuitive voicing of their conversations by Jennifer Massey (Laura) and John Benitz (Dan), there is a heart-breaking sense of tragedy as the two inevitably become bitterly contentious over whether Adam should receive a cochlear implant, a highly controversial surgical technique that offers no guarantees and at best would only restore partial hearing. Yet, Adam is an ideal candidate for the procedure since he was born hearing and is the proper age.

Given that the proposed operation to Adam’s skull, as cold-bloodedly explained by an impressively impassive Dr. Flynt (Cal Bartlett), would cause any parent concern, it inevitably becomes clear that Laura and her parents have overriding agendas that give added ferocity in their fight against Adam’s father. Laura comes to believe that Dan’s determination underscores a deep-seated conviction that she isn’t as “normal” as he, therefore not as equal.

Her parents, Max and Sally, are another matter entirely. As created by Sachs and performed with riveting determination by Bernard Briggs and Freda Norman (with seamless vocal interpretation by Bartlett and Elizabeth Barrett, respectively), Max and Sally are macabre monuments to fear, hypocrisy, bigotry and outright deceit.

They contend Adam’s loss of hearing is the “will of God” and that Dan is making a villainous attempt to strip their grandson of his true “culture.” Yet, their faith in the wisdom of the almighty didn’t stop them from lying to Laura all her life, keeping from her that she too had been born hearing just like Adam. Sally admits she had actually prayed to heaven that her baby Laura would lose her hearing so she could be truly be a part of their world of the deaf.

Despite the overall dramatic accomplishment of the production, Sachs’ stage play suffers by inadequately supporting Dan’s stated conviction that he only wants to provide his son the opportunity to utilize all his senses and therefore find fulfillment and positive interaction in both the world of the hearing and the world of the deaf. It is an unfair fight and Dan doesn’t deserve to lose as much as he does.

Lending great atmosphere to the proceedings is the all-purpose modular set of Tim Farmer and Mark Henderson, as well as the deeply moving projections of Evan Mower and the atmospheric lighting of J. Kent Inasy.

Sweet Nothing in My Ear

Fountain Theatre; 99 seats; $22 top

Production: The Fountain Theatre presents a play in two acts, written and directed by Stephen Sachs.

Creative: Set design, Tim Farmer, Mark Henderson, lighting design, J. Kent Inasy; projection design, Evan Mower; costume design, Mariel McEwan. Opened June 20, reviewed June 28; runs until July 27. Running time: 2 hours, 20 minutes.

Cast: Cast: Bob Kirsh (Dan), Terrylene (Laura), Gianni Manganelli (Adam), Jennifer Massey (voice of Laura/Pam), John Benitz (Dr. Weisman/voice of Dan), Elizabeth Barrett (Barbara, voices of Sally, Adam, Dr. Walters), Bernard Bragg (Max), Cal Bartlett (voice of Max, Dr. Flynt), Freda Norman (Sally), Vikee Waltrip (Dr. Walters).

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