THEATER REVIEW: “Children of a Lesser God” @ Fitzgerald Main Stage [Berkshire on Stage]

July 7th, 2017, 11:00 am by Sara
Joshua Jackson and Lauren Ridloff in “Children of a Lesser God” (photo: Matthew Murphy)

Joshua Jackson and Lauren Ridloff in “Children of a Lesser God” (photo: Matthew Murphy)

Review by Barbara Waldinger

Who are the children of a lesser god?

Mark Medoff’s Children of a Lesser God, a play that focuses on the struggles of deaf people to deal with society at large, is as relevant to the problems facing minorities today as it was in the aftermath of the civil rights movement. It captured the Tony award for Best Play in 1980 and for its two leads, John Rubenstein and Phyllis Frelich. (Frelich was the first deaf performer to be so honored, and when the movie adaptation came out a few years later, Marlee Matlin became the first deaf actress to win an Academy Award.) Now the play is being revived to open the 89th season of Berkshire Theatre Group’s Fitzgerald Main Stage in Stockbridge, with direction by Tony Award-winner Kenny Leon, featuring Joshua Jackson and Lauren Ridloff.

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A love story between a male teacher at a school for the deaf, and a female former student (subsequently a custodian at the school), the play seeks to make a case for deaf rights. The deaf woman Sarah Norman (Ridloff), takes a stand: she stubbornly, even angrily, refuses to learn to lip read or to speak. Graceful, elegant and breathtakingly expressive in her signs, Sarah understandably fears how she will look and sound if she vocalizes. She has never needed language, having lived in this cocoon-like school since the age of five, and having engaged in numerous sexual escapades that did not depend on language. The dedicated teacher James Leeds (Jackson), is determined to persuade Sarah, with whom he has fallen in love, to join the speaking world, which will offer her many more opportunities in life. On the classroom blackboard (which slides on and off the set) is written: “Speech is not a specious but a sacred sanction secured by solemn sacrifice.” He promises that with his help, Sarah will no longer be dependent on others to speak for her.

Click to read the rest at Berkshire on Stage.