‘Children of a Lesser God’: Theater Review Review REVIEWS

Opening Night:
Open Ended

Theater: Studio 54 / 254 West 54th Street, New York, NY, 10019


If there's a more indigestible lump of bouncy 1970s pop schmaltz than Paul McCartney's "Silly Love Songs," right now it escapes me. It's one of a handful of intrusive music choices that director Kenny Leon makes in the dreary Broadway revival of Children of a Lesser God, a once-groundbreaking 1979 play by Mark Medoff that today needs no help showing its age. Opening with Stevie Wonder's "Love's In Need of Love Today," played before the action starts to make us absorb the lyrics, the production tips the balance away from the author's sensitive handling of deaf politics toward the bland reaffirmation that the heart is a more powerful communication tool than the human voice. If that sounds like the melodramatic fodder of a vintage Lifetime movie, you got it.

Leon's sluggish production does eventually gather some steam in the second act, expanding beyond the banal romantic focus of impassioned teacher James Leeds (Joshua Jackson) and reluctant student Sarah Norman (Lauren Ridloff) into more complex issues. When it tightens its focus on the rights of deaf people to choose the terms on which they interact with the hearing world — weighing the virtues of American Sign Language, lip-reading, and speech with conflicting ideologies — you can see why this was an important work back in its time. But Nina Raines' superior 2010 drama Tribes has since come along to examine related questions in a context both more compelling and less didactic. Not to mention the broader evolution of more enlightened attitudes toward the deaf community and minorities in general.



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