Everything comes in twos at Apples and Oranges, directed with heart by Tim Chamberlain. In what starts out to be an interesting Pinter-esque concept, Dana and Rex are both a deaf couple (Sandra Mae Frank and Lance Hall) and a hearing couple (Amanda Zeitler and Jack Powers) and perform the same scenes – once speaking and once with gestures and ASL – recreating significant moments in their lives. We ‘hear’ about the several failed marriage proposal attempts; the first time they had feelings for each other, and complaints by both couples, how the men play too many video games, how the men are too busy on their cell phones and iphones and ignore their wives in and out of bed, how the wives spent too much time with their girlfriends on the weekends and how they shop too much, and how their sex lives are almost non-existent. It’s all familiar stuff and it’s been done a million times before, but in the hands of these fine actors, it didn’t matter because there is passion and fine acting on the stage.
The real problem is that I wanted to learn more about these characters and care more about them but Playwright Jessica Willoughby didn’t delve into what makes these two couples really tick and why they really have stayed together so long – despite their lack of communication skills. And I was not moved by the repetitive seething scenes over someone not changing the toilet paper and someone’s displeasure of their much-loved bacon being replaced by boring and tasteless tofu. And I felt uncomfortable with an embarrassing condom-buying scene for the two ‘volunteers’ from the audience who were thrust into that craziness that stopped the show cold. And there were just too many very short scenes that came and disappeared into darkness, which affected the pace of the show.
However, as a hearing person I was in awe of the gesturing and physical movements and facial expressions Frank and Hall made when communicating on the stage. What struck me is how they looked at each other and their bodies worked together as they communicated to me and the rest of the audience. And I am sure there would have been more reaction if there were more people in the audience.
Theatre and The Fringe is best when it affects you and moves you and although Apples and Oranges won’t win the Pulitzer Prize for Drama it did, at times, touch me. This was an educational experience for me because – I am ashamed to say – I have not seen enough Deaf Theatre and/or reached out to the Deaf Theatre community enough, and have not given them the coverage on DCMTA that they deserve. And now that will change.
Apples and Oranges plays through July 28, 2013 at The Gilbert C. Eastman Studio Theatre -800 Florida Ave NE, at Gallaudet University, in Washington, DC. For the performance schedule and to purchase tickets, please go to their Capital Fringe page.
2013 Capital Fringe Show Preview: ‘Apples & Oranges’ by Tim Chamberlain.
Apples and Oranges is a tale told twice, too – both times as sit-coms.
In one version, Dana and Rex (portrayed by the fine deaf actors Sandra Mae Frank and Lance Hall) are a deaf couple, who express their travails in gesture and ASL. In the other, they are a hearing couple (Amanda Zeitler and Jack Powers, also doing good work). Aside from this single difference, they are the same people, experiencing the same challenges and resolving them in the same way.
It’s an interesting concept. Because ASL has little tone, even for those fluent in it, good deaf actors compensate by making strong and bold choices with their faces and bodies. Frank and Hall are good actors, and it is a pleasure to watch the way they fling themselves into Rex and Dana’s frustrations and passions.
Amanda Zeitler and Jack Powers Regrettably, Rex and Dana appear to live lives of utter conventionality, occasionally seasoned with stereotype and cliché. Rex forgets to change the role of toilet paper. Dana spends too much time shopping with her friends. Rex plays video games and ignores Dana. Dana has lost interest in sex. And so on. If you’re thinking “they should see a marriage counselor”, let me assure you that they do. This is how I found out about most of these problems.
Apples & Oranges
by Jessica Willoughby
at The Gilbert C. Eastman Studio Theatre
800 Florida Ave NE
Washington, DC, 20003
Details and tickets
The story meanders from event to event. About three-quarters of the way through, director Tim Chamberlain delivers dialogue from offstage when Frank and Hall are Dana and Rex, and stands on stage to interpret when Zeitler and Powers deliver the dialogue verbally. This spoils the experiment, which was (to me, anyway) to see how a story delivered through movement and gesture conveys an identical story delivered through dialogue.
At another point the cast invites members of the audience to come on stage to act out various portions of the story. There is a certain charm to risking such a catastrophe (although the impromptu actors at the show I saw acquitted themselves pretty well) but it iis no substitute for a good story.
At the end, the story simply stops. It is just as well. We have seen Dana and Rex portrayed by hearing actors, by deaf actors, and by surprised audience members, but no matter how you cut it, they never rise above the mundane.