ONSTAGE: More ‘Lesser’ – Director returns to ‘Children’ 22 years after SBCC production
By Ted Mills, NEWS-PRESS CORRESPONDENT
June 8, 2007 8:27 AM
“This is the ultimate role for a deaf woman,” TL Forsberg says about her lead role in “Children of a Lesser God,” opening tonight at the Rubicon Theatre. “Then again, maybe it’s the only role.”
Forsberg is only half-joking. Mark Medoff’s “Children of a Lesser God” first premiered in the early 1980s and introduced audiences to the world of the deaf through a romance between James Leeds, a teacher of lip-reading, and a deaf former student, Sarah. The film version made Marlee Matlin an Oscar-winning star. As for the theatrical event, few plays involving the deaf have come since, says director Rod Lathim. And none, he says, match “Children” for its power and effect.
“It’s not a play that gets produced much,” Lathim says. “The biggest challenge is finding an actor to play James. Not only does he have to work artistically and dramatically, but he has to be skilled in sign language. If I had not gotten Remi (Sandri), I would not have done this.”
Lucky for Lathim and Sandri, they worked together in 1985 on “Children,” when it played at SBCC’s Garvin Theater.
“At the time, I thought I was too young for the part,” Sandri says. “But it was a fantastic challenge. Rod told me it would probably be the hardest thing I’d ever learn . . . but it was a chance to stretch and see how far I could go.”
Years later, Sandri needed little convincing to return to the part. “Rod just called me up,” he says.
“The difference for me this time around,” Lathim says, “is that I have a full staff and all-equity actors. I don’t have to run around (doing many jobs), just focus on the actors.”
Lathim spent 18 years as founder and artistic director of Santa Barbara’s Access Theatre, which produced original musicals and plays that incorporated the talents of artists who were deaf, blind or physically disabled. So he is making sure “Children” appeals to the non-hearing community, too, with special shows that will be completely interpreted using shadow signing.
Forsberg has been onstage for most of her career, either through acting, dancing or singing as part of her band, Kriya. She lost most of her hearing at age 8, but can read lips, sign and speak. “Children” gives her a chance to return to acting. The play brings up issues of identity among the deaf, she says, who make choices between the hearing and non-hearing worlds.
Lathim agrees. “Since the play was written, there have been great advances in technology,” he says. “Back then the cochlear implant didn’t exist. Now people have that choice. But that choice has also created politics that I can’t even speak about (with authority). I understand both perspectives.”
A little bit of those politics can be found in the play in Sarah’s initial refusal to learn to lip-read. But out of that conflict between teacher and ex-student springs the relationship and their falling in love.
It’s a universal theme, Sandri says.
“How do two people find a way to talk to each other when both use different kinds of language?” he says. “Everybody has those questions. How do you compromise? How do you know when to back off, or when to keep going? In the end, it’s a love story.”
‘CHILDREN OF A LESSER GOD’
When: 8 tonight through July 1
(7 p.m. Saturday, Wednesday, June 20 and June�27); 2 p.m. Sundays and Wednesdays. Signed performances: June 27 through July 1; no signed show July 28
Where: Rubicon Theatre, 1006 E. Main Street, Ventura
Tickets: $25 to $49
Information: 667-2900 or www.rubicontheatre.org