TRUE WEST, Bailiwick Repertory. This version of Sam Shepard’s oft-produced play about two very different brothers includes an intriguing innovation: casting deaf actors in the key roles of Lee, the manipulative criminal brother, and the order-creating mother.
This experiment must be empowering for deaf actors and audiences alike, and the production does contain some brilliant, subtle touches–like the use of a flashing lamp instead of a doorbell–that clearly communicate the mundane details of life in a household that includes deaf members. But this staging is not an unqualified success. Though it’s interesting to see how director Ronald Jiu and his cast choose to communicate Shepard’s brilliant dialogue visually, the results can be disappointing, as when Michael J. Stark as Lee reduces Shepard’s earthy poetry to obvious physical gestures, acting out the expression “he almost shit in his pants.”
Just as distracting is the choice to have Aaron Christensen, playing the nerdy screenwriter brother, translate Lee’s sign language into speech. This is handy for those of us who don’t know ASL but dumbs down the play, disrupts the drama, and tears the fabric of believability.