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SOCIAL CLIMES

Huck and company

November 24, 2002|Ann Conway | Times Staff Writer

It was a feast fit for Huck Finn: Finger-lickin' chicken, grits, cornbread and pecan squares were on the menu at the cast party celebrating Deaf West Theatre's production of "Big River" at the Mark Taper Forum. And there was toe-tappin' too, with a fiddler setting the upbeat tone for guests including stars Scott Waara (Mark Twain) and Tyrone Giordano (Huck Finn), and Deaf West artistic director Ed Waterstreet.

The musical, adapted from Mark Twain's "The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn," blends music, voice, dance and sign language. It marks the first time a local production has been brought to the Taper. Theater artistic director Gordon Davidson fell in love with the show when he saw it last year at Deaf West's 85-seat facility in the NoHo Arts District of North Hollywood. "It's a kind of miracle of two languages and two cultures coming together," he said.

Waterstreet, who is deaf and founded Deaf West because of his inability to enjoy theater as a child, said he was so excited about the production that he hadn't been able to sleep. "Every year we've dreamed of stepping out from our small theater and getting exposure with larger audiences," he said through interpreter Bill O'Brien, the company's producing director. During the hoedown, Waterstreet presented Davidson with a souvenir jacket, the lining of which was embroidered with the names of each member of the cast and crew. Thrilled, Davidson promptly turned the jacket inside out and modeled it for the crowd. "When Gordon wears this jacket, he can feel the hugs from everybody in 'Big River,' " Waterstreet said.

Also partying on Nov. 14 in the Salvatori Room at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion were Mary Miller, widow of Roger Miller, who wrote the show's music and lyrics; William Hauptman, author of the book for the musical; Rocco Landesman, who produced the musical on Broadway in 1985, where it won seven Tony Awards; and Jeff Calhoun, director and choreographer of the production at the Taper. "With half the cast being deaf, you throw your directing skills out the door -- everything you've learned doesn't apply," Calhoun said. "Like a scene with a coffee cup -- you can't have an actor hold the cup, because he has to sign. Or when a doorbell rings and somebody needs to answer the door and can't sign because they have their back to the audience.

"I've learned that there is no difference between the deaf and the hearing -- only that hearing people seem to be afraid of the unknown," Calhoun said.

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