Already the fall theatre season is opening with a bang. This week, it is Deaf West’s extraordinary production of Tony Award-winning playwright Jack Thorne’s, The Solid Life of Sugar Water. The title is left to the audience to ken, as is the searing, vibrant performance by the actors. Deaf actors Tad Cooley as Phil and Sandra Mae Frank as Alice are “verbally” and physically graphic as they act out the story of their meeting, their romance, and marriage, communicating with lightening speed in the awesomely expressive ASL sign language. As is de rigueur in a Deaf West production, the action is coordinated with speaking actors (Nick Apostolina and Natalie Camunas) doubling the dialogue in spoken English and bringing just as much passion to the performance as the principals.
The scenic design by Sean Fanning gives the audience a fly-on-the-ceiling look at the couple’s bedroom. With extraordinary coordination, the deaf and speaking players act out with graphic details how this couple goes about making love. It is the frankest rendering of sexual groping and coupling imaginable. It might make some theatregoers squirm. And yet the actors are fully clothed in pants and tops.
The sexual action, begun in medias res, is curiously hesitant. Why? The only cue is a fleeting mention of milk. Before long the action shifts backward to the time that Phil and Alice meet by chance in line at the post office. The story of their first tentative moments and how they came to love each other is achingly poignant. The audience grows to love them. There is lots of quirky stuff and laughs as their lives entwine. But drama demands conflict, and when the crisis unfolds, the affect is searing, and stunned this audience member with a visceral ache. This reaction is as old as theatre itself, like when the Greeks felt the sorrow and pity of poor, blind, wretched Oedipus. The good playwright doesn’t leave the audience in tatters, but brings us back to the marital bed we first saw. And the rousing house gave the actors their due at curtain call.
Randee Trabitz directs The Solid Life of Sugar Water. The Deaf West creative team includes ASL Master Linda Bove, rehearsal interpreter Elli Streifer, lighting designer Derrick McDaniel, sound designer Noelle Hoffman; projection designer Heather Fipps and costume designer Adriana Lambarri. Julie Ouellette manages the stage with assurance. David J. Kurs produces for Deaf West Theatre and Deborah Reed is the business manager.
The Solid Life of Sugar Water, presented by Deaf West Theatre, David J. Kurs Artistic Director, continues through October 13 in the Rosenthal Theater at Inner-City Arts, 720 Kohler Street in Los Angeles.