Theatre Crave’s production of Ashley Wright’s play Silent Words starring Chris Dodd, which plays until April 25th, 2010 in the Tarragon Theatre Extra Space, is a truly special evening of theatre. Chris Dodd is a well-known performer and writer from Edmonton, Alberta and he was the first deaf person to graduate with a B.A. (Honours) in Drama from the University of Alberta. Silent Words is a story told both in spoken words and in sign language and it is an emotionally riveting and beautifully theatrical experience.
Ashley Wright’s play is centered on an ordinary boy in an ordinary town who becomes extraordinary and renowned in his neighbourhood when he learns to play his father’s favourite song by ear on the piano. He is quickly considered to be a piano prodigy, although he still behaves largely like an ordinary boy who enjoys his time most when he is having adventures with his best friend Kathy Barry. But when this extraordinary young boy acquires an infection which eventually leaves him deaf, his extraordinariness is threatened to be snuffed out and replaced with being branded as an outcast.
Chris Dodd narrates this story in third person. His speech is at times difficult to understand, so there are sporadic subtitles that capture the essential words to help the audience follow along. What I found most remarkable and captivating was how Dodd continually engaged his entire body in his sign language. It was fascinating to me to watch how much emotion could be saturated into the movements of his hands and how clearly they communicated, even to one unfamiliar with the specifics of the language. With his charming smile, Dodd is instantly charismatic and draws the audience seamlessly into the world of this extraordinary boy.
Ashley Wright’s use of language is unique and simultaneously provides the audience with a descriptive narrator that competently sets the scene of this neighbourhood for us but also gives Dodd’s character a strong voice and a personality of his own. He uses repetition effectively, which simultaneously gives the audience the opportunity to solidify the words that they have heard, but also emphasizes the moments that are especially important to our narrator and the young boy. The repeated words form a sense of rhythm and poetry that helps to give the boy’s story its momentum.
Narda Mccaroll’s set, Michael Kruse’ lighting design and Darrin Hagen’s sound design combine magically and subtlety to add rich texture to Dodd’s words and to bring all the shadowy sounds and thoughts and feelings whirling around inside the boy’s head out for the audience to hear. With all the elements combined, this story reaches a magnificently powerful apex, which hits the audience members directly in the heart.
Ultimately Silent Words is a story about a boy who is passionate about the escapades he is able to embark upon with his friend Kathy Barry and the music he is able to create with his piano. It is a story about how his inability to hear has the potential to destroy all the wonder and magic he has found in the world. And yet, while the play mourns a great loss and confronts the unfairness of cruel circumstances, it remains poignantly hopeful as the boy begins to share his knowledge of piano playing with another young music prodigy and he realizes that music can be heard in heart and felt in the soul. The most hopeful aspect of this play, however, is a magical interaction between Chris Dodd and his audience. At the beginning of the play many of his words seem difficult to understand, and I found myself relying quite heavily on the subtitles. It was apparent from Dodd’s performance that he was trying exceptionally hard to make himself as clear as he possibly could, and, at the same time, I found that I was listening more intently than I can ever remember listening. We were both working hard to communicate with one another, and this established immediately that we were both invested and committed to this story. Yet, as the play progressed, the subtitles became fewer and farther between until they entirely disappeared, but I found that my ears had adjusted to the speech and my listening, although still ardent, was less strenuous. This exchange is perhaps the most hopeful aspect of this play because, although the narrator’s story is one of intense sadness, by listening the audience proves that the powers of communication, of drama, of human interaction and our inherent connection to one another’s hearts and souls will break through the isolation that the young boy feels at the end of his story and allow him to engage once again in the world that has heralded him extraordinary.
Theatre Crave’s Silent Words plays until April 25th, 2010 in the Tarragon Theatre Extra Space (30 Bridgman Avenue). For more information or to book your tickets please call 416.531-1827 or visit www.tarragontheatre.com.