Children of a Lesser God review at Studio 54, New York – ‘an absorbing revival’
Mark Medoff’s Children of a Lesser God premiered on Broadway 38 years ago. It still holds up very well. The play is a moving and revealing insight into the world of the deaf.
While companies like Graeae and initiatives like the UK’s Ramps on the Moon do use D/deaf actors, it is still striking how rarely we see them on our stages. This remains one of the few mainstream plays to offer D/deaf people a centerstage role.
Medoff’s play explores the romance that evolves between Sarah, a 26-year-old, woman who has been Deaf since birth, and a new speech therapist James who tries to persuade her, unsuccessfully, to speak aloud. It’s a play primarily about communication, and the supremely expressive Lauren Ridloff – a former Miss Deaf America – is able to convey a wealth of emotion in a performance that is full of passion and frustration while avoiding vulnerability and therefore sentimentality.
The verbal work is done by Joshua Jackson, best known for The Affair. His performance as James is dextrous and impressive that steers a fine line between translating for his co-star throughout without seeming to speak for her, while also signing as well as speaking his own replies.
Two more D/deaf students are played with a truthful-feeling tenacity by John McGinty and Treshelle Edmond. Kenny Leon’s production additionally makes unprecedented steps towards inclusivity, offering simultaneous supertitles as well as the text on a mobile App, and providing ASL interpreters at designated performances. Leon’s absorbing production is only undermined by an ugly abstract set of door frames and naked tree trunks.