Jean Cocteau's ORPHEE Viewed Through Unique Lens Of Deaf West Theatre

By: Feb. 05, 2020
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Jean Cocteau's ORPHEE Viewed Through Unique Lens Of Deaf West Theatre

Orpheus, Eurydice, a trouble-making horse and Death herself converge in a very funny and irreverent reimagining of the Greek myth by surrealist poet, playwright and filmmaker Jean Cocteau. Deaf West Theatre views Cocteau's whimsical, magical and highly visual play, first performed in 1926, through a unique lens: translated from the French into Spoken English by John Savacool, into American Sign Language by Andrew Moore, and slated for a run at the True Colors Festival in Tokyo, Japan at the end of April. Deena Selenow directs Orphée in a visiting production at the Odyssey Theatre, opening March 13 for a four-week run through April 5. Three low-priced previews are set for March 8, March 11 and March 12.

Shortly after he wrote the long poem "L'Ange Heurtebise" in 1925, Cocteau adapted the legend of Orpheus and his descent into Hell to rescue his wife, Eurydice, for the stage. With only one act and very few characters (Orpheus, Eurydice, Heurtebise, Death and her helpers), the play revolves around a story of love and death in a universe where time is abolished and horses make poetry. Cocteau's work deals with the inner personality of the poet and his relentless inclination towards, and fascination with, Death. Described by Cocteau as "part farce, part meditation on death," the playwright continued to explore the same themes throughout his ensuing career, culminating with his seminal "Orphic Trilogy" of films: Le Sang d'un Poete, Orphée, and Le Testament d'Orphée.

"Although the play was written in 1925, it feels oddly modern and is very relevant to these times," notes Deaf West Theatre artistic director David J. Kurs.

"Cocteau has created a world in which words are traded freely - Orpheus even communicates with a horse - yet no one truly understands each other," says Selenow. "This feels very familiar in today's world. It's a fun, messy tapestry for both Deaf and hearing actors and audiences."

Daniel Durant (upcoming feature film Coda with Emilia Jones and Marlee Matlin; ABC Family's Switched at Birth; Moritz in Deaf West's Spring Awakening at Inner City Arts, the Wallis and Broadway) stars as Orpheus, a celebrated poet with writer's block who has sequestered himself in the countryside with his wife, Eurydice, to seek inspiration. Eurydice is played by Natasha Ofili (profiled in Oprah magazine for her groundbreaking role as a Deaf principal in Ryan Murphy's The Politician on Netflix; Undone on Amazon Prime; Deaf West Theatre's Our Town at The Pasadena Playhouse), with the two given voice by Malik B. El-Amin (artistic director of Griot Theatre) and Lorinda Hawkins Smith (Justice? Or Just Me? recently performed at REDCAT), who also plays Death.

Amelia Hensley (Thea in Deaf West's Spring Awakening at Inner City Arts, the Wallis and Broadway), voiced by Jacquelyn Landgraf (fiction podcast It Makes A Sound; NY Neo-Futurists; U.S. premieres of Anna Nicole: The Opera at BAM and 3 Kinds of Exile, directed by Neil Pepe at the Atlantic Theater), takes on the role of Heurtebise. "I am going to unwrap the secret of secrets. Mirrors are doors. It's through them that Death moves back and forth into life," Heurtebise tells Orpheus. (As legend has it, Cocteau was standing in an elevator when the angel spoke to him and divulged his name: it was the same as that of elevator manufacturer, Heurtebise.)

Also in the cast are Danny Cron, seen in Good Boys at The Pasadena Playhouse, and Krissy Lemon, winner of the Florida School of the Arts "Against the Odds" award.

Following the production at the Odyssey, Orphée will travel to Japan, where the play will be presented with the additional layer of Japanese supertitles. The Nippon Foundation has invited Deaf West to perform at Tokyo's Theatre Tram from April 24-26 as part of the True Colors Festival. Deaf West previously brought their production of Big River to Japan, where they performed in front of dignitaries including the Crown Princess.

The Deaf West creative team includes scenic designer James Maloof, costume designer Lena Sands, lighting designer R.S. Buck, sound designer Howard Ho and projection designer Michael Epstein. The production stage manager is Kyle Montgomery, and Laura Hill produces for Deaf West Theatre, David J. Kurs artistic director. Ken Mikos is executive producer.

For reservations and information, call (818) 762-2998 (voice) or go to


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