World Stages: International Theater Festival: Nalaga’at Theater Deaf-Blind Acting Ensemble: ‘Not by Bread Alone’

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FOUR AND A HALF STARS
The World Stages: International Theater Festival takes the center stage at The Kennedy Center, March 10-30, 2014 bringing together some of today’s most exciting theatrical visionaries presenting an unprecedented focus on theatre from around the globe. Twenty-two theatrical offerings from nineteen countries, and every continent except Antarctica, are represented in this theater Festival of dynamic stories examining contemporary issues and universal themes. Curated by Alicia Adams, Vice President, International Programming, thirteen fully staged productions will be featured including nine U.S. premieres, as well as four theater-focused installations, panel discussions, two staged readings, and two Directors forums.
The delights in this extraordinary assembling of theatrical treasures comprise World Stages: International Theater Festival 2014 – the Kennedy Center’s first theater-focused international festival!

Food for Thought – Review: ‘Not by Bread Alone’

The chefs knead and bake bread in Not by Bread Alone by the Nalaga'at Theater Deaf-Blind Acting Ensemble.  Photo courtesy of Nalaga’at Theater Ensemble.
The chefs knead and bake bread in Not by Bread Alone by the Nalaga’at Theater Deaf-Blind Acting Ensemble. Photo courtesy of Nalaga’at Theater Ensemble.

We need much more than the physical bread for our survival on planet earth. In Mathew 4:4 of the Bible, it tells believers so -“It is written, man shall not live by bread alone.” If man is made of three entities – body, soul, and spirit – what is the food for our spirit, for our soul?

Man cannot live by bread alone.

Theatrical and culinary arts come together in an unprecedented way as the world’s only professional deaf-blind ensemble. Not by Bread Alone is a test of its audience’s humanity and humility. It’s also a test for theater itself.

Hebrew for “Please Touch,” Isreal’s Nalaga’at Theater’s production of the ground-breaking Deaf-Blind Acting Ensemble performing at The Kennedy Center’s World Stages: International Theatre Festival, takes the audience on a heartfelt journey exploring the joys of baking filled with the colorful imagination of the performers inner worlds of silence and the loneliness of darkness.

But this is not a show about blindness, deafness, or blind-deafness.

Directed by the theater’s Artistic Director Adina Tal, the audience is lead through a humbling transformative experience that is an inspired evening of “believing in hope about being imperfect,” said Tal in a discussion after the production. It’s about accepting something that we all have in common – imperfection – and embracing the beauty of it. “This is not about what the audience is giving (by attending) it’s about what they are receiving,” she said.

Expressing themselves in a creative manner, this unusual group is creative, self-sufficient and joyful, and who wish to present their audience with a wonderful gift of art – their deeply felt, vulnerable selves.

With a set reminiscent of a bakery – three double ovens, hanging pots and pans, and rows of shelves with bread on them – the actors begin baking bread on stage as they begin to share their personal stories and express their individual hopes and dreams. Sitting in a row at a long wood table, each has their face covered with a white mask. One by one as the masks are removed, so is the anonymity of their journey as they invite the audience to share their everyday lives.

The eleven compelling storytellers of Not by Bread Alone knead, shape, and bake bread as they tell vivid stories through sign language and expressive movement. Spoken word is also used by three of the actors to communicate in Hebrew (that is spoken in English at different times by one of the seven interpreters who also assist the cast throughout the production). During the performance the audience hears drum beats that are used as cues for the non-hearing actors to feel the vibrations and to serve as signal cues for the next scene as poignant vignettes of the life stories are acting out.

Not by Bread Alone succeeds because the actors succeed.

The actors’ personal narratives are both heart-wrenching and humorous, and the strength of Nalaga’at is the actors being themselves. Performing as themselves, these unique actors bring immediacy and a quality to their performance art that stands alone and cannot be replicated.

Most of the actors were born with the inherited disorder, Usher Syndrome, which initially results in deafness and then is followed by loss of vision in the first ten years of life.

Blindness is a world of darkness, and not being able to hear is like living where a foreign language is spoken. There is a sense of being alone in the world. We learn that the majority of deaf-blind people are only able to communicate through touch or those who are familiar with sign language. Within Nalaga’ at the actors have incredible rapport, and communicate with each other through many different ways, as each member has his or her specific needs and abilities addressed. Shoshana, for example, wants to shake the hand of everyone she meets – so she knows that they exist. Yuri, Igor, and Mark communicate in Russian sign, while Yuri who enjoys reading Braille, writes Braille onto Itzika’s hand. Tikva translates the Hebrew that Genia speaks, and she also speaks through Isreali sign language.

It should come as no surprise that the development for Not by Bread Alone has been a long and challenging process. This production was in rehearsal for two years adding and changing vignettes, and familiarizing everyone with the different stages of baking.

The big dreams and little dreams unveiled might seem unimportant to us, and are actions that most of us take for granted. But it is the drive, tenacity, and dedication of this Deaf-Blind Acting Ensemble that is a living testament to the proverb – life is what you make it.

Not by Bread Alone is dedicated to the human spirit and the brave souls who perform this sensitive performance piece, and the occasion lasts as long as it takes the cast to make bread. Inhaling the perfume of the moment, as the audience shares the freshly made bread, a new beautifully organic communication and communion begin. It is a resounding evening of nourishment for the body, soul and spirit.

Performed in Hebrew with English supertitles and American Sign Language. Recommended for ages 12 and up.

Running Time: 90 minutes, with no intermission.

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Not by Bread Alone has one more performance tonight, Wednesday, March 26th, at 7:30 p.m. in the Terrace Theater at The Kennedy Center – 2700 F Street, NW, in Washington, DC. For tickets, call the box office at (202) 467-4600, or purchase them online. 

LINKS
Yvonne French on Not by Bread Alone in her column Synesthesia on DCMTA.

Read Sydney-Chanele Dawkins’ reviews of shows in the World Stages: International Theater Festival:

The Suit. 
Rupert.
Tapioca Inn: Incendios.
Harmsaga.
Death & the Maiden (La Muerte y La Doncella). 
Savannah Bay.
A Midsummer Night’s Dream.
Penny Plain.
Not by Bread Alone.

World Stages Festival YouTube Channel.

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Sydney-Chanele Dawkins
Sydney-Chanele Dawkins is an award-winning feature filmmaker, film curator, film festival producer and a theater/film critic and arts writer. She also serves as an impassioned advocate for the Arts as Chair of the Alexandria Commission for the Arts in Alexandria, VA. Fearless. Tenacious. Passionate. Loyal. These characteristics best describe Sydney-Chanele's approach to life, her enthusiasm for live theater and the arts, and her cinephile obsession with world cinema. Her successful first film, 'Modern Love is Automatic' premiered at SXSW in Austin, Texas, and made its European debut at the Edinburgh Film Festival. She recently completed her third film, the animated - 'The Wonderful Woes of Marsh' - which is rounding the film festival circuit. In 2013, Sydney-Chanele produced the box office hit,Neil Simon's Rumors for the McLean Community Players at Alden Theater, Her next producing effort in 2014 is Pearl Cleage's 'Blues for an Alabama Sky' for Port City Playhouse. Programmer for Cinema Art Bethesda and Co Chair of the Film Program for Artomatic, Sydney-Chanele is the past Festival Director of the Alexandria Film Festival, the Reel Independent Film Festival,and Female Shorts & Video Showcase. She is active in leadership and programming positions with DC Metro area Film Festivals including: Filmfest DC, DC Shorts, the Washington Jewish Film Festival, Arabian Sights Film festival, and AFI Docs. Please feel free to contact me with your comments and questions - sydneychanele@gmail.com [Note: Sydney-Chanele Dawkins passed away on July 8, 2015, at age 47, after a battle with Breast Cancer.]