The Loudest Man on Earth
Catherine Rush and Adrian Blue know full well the effect of a snap judgment. Rush, who can hear, and Blue, who cannot, have been together for 22 years and on the receiving end of many misunderstandings. If a clerk greets the couple at the grocery store and only Rush responds, they take Blue's lack of reaction as off-putting.
"They might think, 'What a jerk,'" says Rush, who lives in Philadelphia with her husband. "They make a judgment about him because he doesn't respond, that he's being rude. It just reminds me that I shouldn't judge everyone that I meet on the street."
Rush penned her unconventional romantic comedy, The Loudest Man on Earth, which debuted at TheatreWorks in Palo Alto last weekend and runs through Aug. 4, with that idea in mind: that so much gets lost in translation.
The play, written with a balance of humor and sentiment by Rush and directed by Pamela Berlin, casts Blue as Jordan, a deaf theater director who's in love with a journalist, Haylee, played by Julie Fitzpatrick. The story follows them as they navigate their uncertain budding romance, a run-in with the cops and remarks from thoughtless strangers, friends and family naive to the dynamics of their unique relationship.
"You may see at first a story about a deaf and hearing couple who meet and fall in love," says Rush. "But it goes beyond that, beyond a story of just the deaf and hearing. You see two people who have differences. It happens that Jordan is deaf and Haylee is hearing, but they could be anyone. They could be interracial, they could be anyone with some trait that separates them. The idea is that everyone is universally human and we all have our own path."
The cast of four takes on a unique challenge in Rush's work, with the two supporting actors, Cassidy Brown and Mia Tagano, having to quick-change costumes and personas more than 20 times between them. They switch from a brusque cop to Jordan's father, or from a brusque nurse to a bewildered Japanese waitress. The idea of writing so many characters for two people was to add to the feeling that people from all walks of life share common, misguided perceptions about people and situations they don't understand.
"I crafted it so that this deaf and hearing couple go through their life and what they encounter, to some degree, is a stereotype of reactions to their relationships," Rush explains. "I love the idea of having two actors as an everyman and everywoman, that they change characters so repeatedly that you see the dramatic differences but also a common thread. Symbolically, they represent humanity, but they're different people in each scene."
The flurried changeovers offer both a profound metaphor and a sense of humor, something at turns touching and hilarious. The production combines spoken English, American Sign Language and gestures to create a language that speaks to anyone affected by something that sets them apart.
"The play is completely understandable to anyone, though," Blue signs, with Rush translating. "It was developed for all kinds of audiences. If it was only for a deaf audience, it would be for a very limited group of people. It doesn't discount the language of ASL, and it doesn't discount spoken English. It tries to respect both languages."
Everything in the play has happened to Blue and Rush, but they're quick to note that it's not pure autobiography. The situations have been embellished, simplified or dramatized to convey an emotion grounded in reality.
"I like to say that the only piece of us that's left in the play is the good times, the sense of humor, the love of fun and the sense of how much we love each other," says Rush, who wrote the play six years ago as a commission for the Philadelphia Theater Workshop.
Signing on stage has been around for a long time, Blue says. But public mentality is changing, becoming more accepting of other cultures and diversity and, by extension, deafness. More portrayals exist on stage and on the big screen.
"Sign language and deafness exist in everybody's life, whether one's conscious of it or not," says Blue, an ASL translator and consultant for theaters across the nation. "The consciousness is growing. There's more acceptance. People's attitudes are changing."
The Loudest Man on Earth
Thru Aug. 4