BWW Review: Nine Brilliant Voices Tell Stories of Hearing Lost And Dreams Found in SILENT NO MORE
In a world so many peddle--and profit from--faux inspiration, SILENT NO MORE: A THEATRICAL DOCUMENTARY offers the real thing. Directed by Michele Christie, Ed.D., Executive Director and Founder of No Limits, SILENT NO MORE is by turns heartbreaking and hilarious as it traces the struggles and successes of courageous men and women variously affected by hearing loss, including a mother of a daughter not diagnosed until three (Bridget Stevens Pollack) and a loving sister of a young woman who came at age four to California from the Philippines with her mother to attend a school for the deaf, leaving her with her father and 6-year-old sister (Iris and Ivy Lee).
Some three decades after Children of a Lesser God, the conflict rages on in the deaf community between those who (only) sign and those who speak. A major theme of SILENT NO MORE is that those in and beyond the deaf community need to support, rather than criticize the choices of those with partial or full hearing loss. As five-time American Comedy Award nominee Kathy Buckley, put it: "I don't care if you sign it, mime it, sing it, or rap it. All that matters is that we respect one another and that our stories are silent no more."
For 20 years, No Limits and its theater program have empowered deaf children to speak, but in no way discourage signing. As Ivy Lee discovered, she can have both hearing friends and deaf friends. Signing doesn't mean "giving up" on speech, as her mother feared when teenaged Ivy announced her intention to sign. You feel the ferocity of Iris' love for her sister in your body; her scene is among the show's highlights.
SILENT NO MORE stresses that deafness does not define these passionate and ambitious adults. The nine stories also drive home the diversity within the deaf community, some of which involves the cause of deafness. Some cast members were born deaf, while others lost their hearing at an early age.
The show, Buckley explained, "was created to understand the new generation of people with hearing loss who feel stuck in the middle between the hearing world and deaf world." Not diagnosed until eight, Buckley attended a school for the mentally slow. "And they called me slow?" she joked. Teaching methods have evolved (as has technology), but the teacher who saved her at eight was a godsend.
Early teachers may not have meant to wound Kathy (and others like her), but lack of understanding led to unimaginable negligence. We've come a long way, but Pollack's account of her struggles with teachers and administrators showed how much work remains to be done. With cuts expected in social services under the incoming Administration, providing deaf children with the resources to remain at grade level (a major problem) is more vital than ever.
John Autry (Glee), who caught the acting bug in toddlerhood, conveyed the pain associated with limitation. This pain is one reason why No Limits continues to fight so hard on behalf of those with hearing loss. A member of No Limits since 7, Autry has performed in 25 productions but remains frustrated--and at times anguished--that the entertainment industry sees him first as deaf and second as an actor.
There's plenty of laughter amidst the tears, as when New Jersey high school teacher Henry Greenfield described his cross-country bike ride, sponsored in part by the Olive Garden. He plotted the journey by locations of the restaurant famous for bread sticks, salad, and large portions of pasta and his trip log includes photographs with Olive Garden employees coast to coast.
Equally funny and heartwarming was the story of photographer and pilot David James Hawkins. From his earliest days, he dreamt of being a pilot but found the greatest resistance from those with hearing loss. Alexis Cohen broke the ice by embracing the characterization of people like her, who live between the deaf and hearing world, as "mythological creatures," and listing the top pet peeves of behavior by those who can hear.
Rebecca Alexander, who holds two graduate degrees from Columbia University (LCSW-R, MPH), told one of the evening's most gut-wrenching stories. One of only 100 people diagnosed with Usher Syndrome Type III, Alexander has been slowly going deaf and blind since her teens. She's lost approximately 90% of her vision, describing this as if she were seeing through small binoculars that didn't magnify. Knowledge of eventual blindness and deafness didn't stop Alexander from achieving more in her first 37 years than many do in a lifetime. She works as a psychotherapist, fitness instructor, and Lululemon Athletica brand ambassador.
With the 2014 release of Not Fade Away: A Memoir of Senses Lost and Found, Alexander has become a national figure and advocate for the deaf and blind. Not content to test her intellectual limits, the seemingly limitless Alexander has also climbed Mount Kilimanjaro, swum from Alcatraz to San Francisco's shore, and competed in the CMC (Civilian Military Combine) race.
Visual aids and music (recordings as well as piano by Ivy Iris) in Carnegie Hall's breathtaking Weill Hall enhanced the triumphant monologues, while the question and answer period directly following the show allowed the audience to connect with the vibrant, strong cast members of SILENT NO MORE.