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'Revolution' Mixes Family's Story With Deaf Activism

Theater Beat

April 27, 2001|F. KATHLEEN FOLEY | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Mark Medoff's "Road to a Revolution" at Deaf West Theatre dramatizes a milestone in deaf activism, the 1988 student uprising at Gallaudet University, the nation's preeminent school for the deaf in Washington, D.C. When a hearing president was chosen over a qualified deaf candidate, deaf students arose in indignation--a headline-grabbing protest that resulted in a historic victory for deaf rights.

More an emotional grail than an actual setting, Gallaudet is the political backdrop against which Medoff's on-the-road drama unfolds. The characters--a contingent from the New Mexico School for the Deaf in Santa Fe--don't actually arrive in Washington until the play ends. The real focus is the intergenerational conflict that plays out en route among the deaf Edna (Phyllis Frelich), her hearing-impaired daughter, Gerri (Deanne Bray), and Gerri's 13-year-old hearing daughter, Tina (Samantha Schwartz).

Gerri is at odds with Edna for playing the passive victim with her domineering husband, Gerri's father. Edna is upset with Gerri for turning her back on the deaf cause. And Tina blames Gerri for their family's recent breakup, which has so painfully dislocated both their lives.

Not to worry. Once on the road--ingeniously evoked by Robert Steinberg's multileveled switchback set--the battling women settle comfortably into couples with strictly appropriate men. And, of course, like any good sitcom, their prickly issues have been neatly resolved before the final fade-out.

Medoff, who also directs, sets the most obvious course for his lumbering vehicle. An amiable cast struggles, often successfully, to lighten the load of stilted language and unwieldy exposition. As in all Deaf West productions, the actors sign, or speak, or sometimes do both. Standouts include Jevon Whetter, who plays a deaf athletics coach aboil with rage at the hearing world, and C.J. Jones as a jocular clown who has adored Edna since childhood. But it is the vibrant Frelich, whose association with Medoff goes back to her 1980 Tony turn in "Children of a Lesser God," who brings direction to this desultory excursion.

*

"Road to a Revolution," Deaf West Theater, 5112 Lankershim Blvd., North Hollywood. Thursdays-Fridays, 8 p.m.; Saturdays, 2 and 8 p.m.; Sundays, 3 p.m. Ends May 27. $20. (818) 762-2773, (818) 762-2782 (TTY). Running time: 2 hours, 20 minutes.

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