OK, not every play about or involving a deaf person or a deaf theme must invariably be produced by Deaf West Theatre. And probably a play that premiered in London to great acclaim and then ran successfully off-Broadway will be snapped up by a larger company than Deaf West.
Which is what happened with “Tribes,” the 2010 play by Nina Raine about a deaf young man who falls in love with a hearing woman born to deaf parents who is also losing her hearing. The issue of sign language and why Billy and his family never learned it becomes a key plot point.
The West Coast premiere, directed by David Cromer at the Mark Taper Forum, reassembles actors Will Brill, Russell Harvard, Susan Pourfar and Gayle Rankin from the New York cast. Harvard has a past Center Theatre Group connection having appeared in the production of “Sleeping Beauty Wakes” co-produced by CTG and Deaf West.
CTG and Deaf West have co-produced quite a bit, particularly as Deaf West has branched into their unique sign language musical adaptations of “Oliver!” “Big River” and “Pippin.” The last two have both been produced at the Mark Taper Forum while “Big River” has also toured nationally, played Broadway and the Ahmanson Theatre. Going back even further, it’s notable that CTG Founding Artistic Director produced and directed the world premiere of Mark Medoff’s “Children of a Lesser God” back before there ever WAS a Deaf West Theatre.
There’s new blood at Deaf West. In March of 2012, David J. Kurs was named to succeed Ed Waterstreet as Artistic Director of Deaf West. In the ensuing months, Deaf West has produced one production, an adaptation of Rostand’s “Cyrano de Bergerac” co-produced with the Fountain Theatre and performed on their stage. Deaf West often rents out its own space and performs at other venues equally as often as they do at home. As anyone who has been to the small venue in NoHo, Deaf West has abilities that far exceed its venue limitations.
Just over a year after his retirement, Waterstreet returns to be feted at a gala in his honor at, yes, CTG’s Kirk Douglas Theatre on Feb. 9, a couple of weeks before “Tribes” opens. Titled “The Dream Must Go On,” the gala will feature a tribute to Waterstreet, his company’s legacy and will include a film tribute “Our Hands are Louder: The Incredible True Story of Deaf West Theatre” directed by Joseph Sargent. Davidson will attend along with Marlee Matlin, Watersteet’s actress/wife Linda Bove, “Big River” director Jeff Calhoun, etc etc.
Yes, indeed, the dream must go on for Deaf West, and it will be interesting to see what Kurs comes up with. Clearly the company won’t have a hand in “Tribes” though it might be interesting to get the Deaf West take on the play.
“Tribes” plays February 27 through April 14, 2013 (opening March 10 at the Mark Taper Forum, 135 S. Grand Ave. L.A. (213) 628-2772, CenterTheatreGroup.org.
“The Dream Must Go On” honoring Ed Waterstreet of Deaf West Theatre is Feb. 9 at 7 p.m. at the Kirk Douglas Theatre, 9820 Washington Blvd., Culver City. $150-$200. 818-762-2998 or www.deafwest.org.