Thursday, July 25, 2013

"The Loudest Man on Earth" ☼ ☼ ☼ ☼

This is a difficult review to write, because Catherine Rush's "The Loudest Man on Earth" is not about words, but about emotion. And communication. You won't see or hear anything else this season remotely like it.

Performed in a combination of sign language and mime, plus spoken language from the three speaking cast members and the strained sounds of the fourth, who is deaf, this brilliant show makes you work hard just to follow. But half an hour or so through the evening you realize you are getting it. And from that moment on the payoff is tremendous.

Adrian Blue plays Jordan White, a successful theater director despite his deafness. He falls for Haylee (Julie Fitzpatrick), who has been sent to interview him. He's a New York Jew, she's a Connecticut brahmin, he is deaf while she knows a little sign language, but despite their differences they move in with each other. Their means of communicating not only intrigues but involves us, as we guess to decipher what Jordan is trying to say.

Fitzpatrick is nothing short of brilliant, as she moves back and forth from speaking to signing, from being Jordan's lover to his protector, from trying in vain to get him to trust her more deeply to having to face her own insecurities about their relationship.

After each emotional situation, Jordan comes to the side of the stage and mimes writing a letter, into which he is obviously pouring his heart. We guess what he is saying -- but really have no idea what he is going on about -- until we do.

Cassidy Brown (Men) and Mia Tagano (Women) play half a dozen characters each, switching costumes and characters on the fly. Their job is to show us the daily embarrassments and difficulties a deaf person must endure in his daily life. We particularly loved Brown and Tagano's depictions of Jordan's parents, who Jordan despises, but we find almost touchingly tragic.

"The Loudest Man on Earth" was a crowd favorite at last year's TheatreWorks New Works Festival and appears here with the same cast. Catherine Rush is Adrian Blue's real-life wife, so she knows what she is writing about. By the show's end we are ready for more. How often do we get to say that?

RATINGS ☼  ☼  ☼  ☼
The San Francisco Theater Blog Awards Division awards "The Loudest Man on Earth" Four Stars. Writing, acting, directing and staging are first rate. We think this show is going to be around a long time.

"The Loudest Man on Earth"
Lucie Stern Theatre
1305 Middlefield Road, Palo Alto
Through August 4

Photo credits: T. Martin and M. Kitaoka

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