The hardest thing to parse about the play Children of a Lesser God isn’t really that half the exposition takes place in a largely foreign language — specifically, American Sign Language. A play about deafness? How does that work? The fact is, it works just fine. No, the problem is another, albeit it also related to communication: How the deaf see the world from a fundamentally different mindset than the hearing. Sarah (Marianne Galloway) has never heard, and never will. But she also refuses to try to reach out to the hearing world: She won’t read lips or try to speak. Does that defiance make her independent, as she thinks, or merely isolated from mainstream society?
It’s an issue I’ve never been able resolve each time I’ve seen Mark Medoff’s Tony Award-winning play (and the Oscar-winning film). As an audience, we feel as puzzled by Sarah (and her friends on more radical side of the deafness issue) as the man who loves her, James Leeds (Ashley Wood, pictured right with Galloway). Then again, perhaps we’re not meant to fully understand; maybe the point is merely to acknowledge the complexities of the issue and move on.
And it’s very possible to do just that with this production. Wood carries a lot of the load, speaking his own dialogue and much of Sarah, but Galloway’s anger, passion and rawness is nothing short of arresting. Her emotional breakdown in Act 2 hits like a tornado, ravaging in its pain and authenticity. You can overlook the weaknesses of the script (such as an Act 1 finale that could easily be the end of the play) and revel simply in the gorgeousness of her breathtaking performance.
This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition July 12, 2013.