In 1982, I bought myself a ticket in the rear balcony to see "Children Of A Lesser God," and it was revelatory. But now, 36 years later in its first Broadway revival, it doesn’t hold up all that well. The play, featuring deaf actors, still resonates, but the production is flawed.
The central message, concerning the bridge that divides the hearing world from the deaf, is compelling. Playwright Mark Medoff introduces us to James Leeds, a well-intentioned speech therapist in a school for the deaf, and Sarah, a deaf woman who works as a maid at the school.
A romance develops, but despite his efforts to teach her, she refuses to communicate in the hearing world. That conflict adds a universal element to the play as it deals with the all-too-human tendency to want to remake others in our image.
So far, so good. But director Kenny Leon’s staging is poorly paced on that mostly bare stage and the overall effect is rather static. It doesn’t help that the supertitles are so far from the actors, we have to break focus gazing up and down.
And while Sarah’s refusal to speak or lip read is understandable, her angry defiance, as written, is somewhat confounding given their loving relationship. The emotional dynamic seems off.
That is in no way a criticism of the performances, though. Lauren Ridloff’s talent is stunning. She speaks volumes with the simplest of gestures and it’s hard to take your eyes off her.
Great work from Joshua Jackson having to do some heavy lifting in this production, simultaneously signing and voicing both sides of the dialogue when he’s with Sarah.
And special mention to the two other deaf performers - John McGinty and Treshelle Edmond - both terrific actors as well.
Time has not been kind to this Tony-winning drama. The subplot involving a lawsuit feels gratuitous. I do applaud the chance to see some really special talents among the deaf cast members. I just think they could have been better served.