Regional Reviews: Los Angeles
Arrival & DepartureThe Fountain Theatre
Also see Bill's review of Big Fish
If Sachs's Cyrano was the story of a marginalized deaf man developing the necessary self-confidence to find his place in the world, Arrival & Departure is the story of a hard-of-hearing woman caught between two of them. Not quite hearing and not quite deaf, Emily (Deanne Bray) feels like she does not belong anywhere. Even in her own family, she is the outsider. Her husband and daughter both hear, and haven't put much effort into learning sign so they can communicate better with herit's all on Emily to wear her hearing aids. When we meet Emily, she's in the midst of studying for her baptism, to become part of the church that is so important to her husband. But even there, she's planning to join a community that is someone else's. Emily has never been a member of anything, and needs to belong so much, she doesn't seem particularly concerned about whether the group she's joining is the right group for her.
Emily's chance encounter with Sam in a subway station Dunkin Donuts changes all of that. Sam (Kotsur) is deaf. Not only thathe's steeped in deaf culture, teaching filmmaking at a school for the deaf, and encouraging his students to explore the artistry in their visual world. When they meet and Emily gets a taste of belonging with a man who can relate to her in a way her husband hasn't bothered to, there is a real passion between them. (The passion is legit; actors Bray and Kotsur are married.) But this ultimately leaves Emily at a very real crossroads: does she stay with the family she loves or destroy her marriage to be with the man who gives her a place to belong?
And if this were all Arrival & Departure had going for it, it would probably be pretty good. Bray gives a convincing portrayal of a woman who is genuinely trying to do her best, but is swept up by the moment; and Kotsur does a fine job with the sweeping. Brian Robert Burns gives a solid performance as Emily's husband, who walks the line between being a genuinely good guy Emily should stay with and being a jerk she should leave. The triangle works.
But that's not all there is. There are some subplots which aren't as effective and come off as so much filler. In parallel to the Emily/Sam story, we meet Mya, the woman who runs the donut counter, and Russell, an MTA officer who is clearly smitten with her. Russell keeps trying to sweet-talk Mya and charm her into a date, despite her resistance. And, in the #metoo era, that is just really hard to pull off. Sachs does a good job making sure both Sam and Russell stay safely on the non-stalker side of things, but with both Sam and Russell thinking a "no" is an invitation to keep trying, I start to wonder why we're still looking at this as romantic.
There are also some issues with the way in which the production is made accessible to hearing and deaf audiences. When Emily and Sam sign, they are voiced by a pair of hearing actors; when Mya and Russell speak, their communications show up on a wall in supertitles. (When Emily's daughter texts with an unknown boy, their text messages show up on the same wall, while the girl also speaks her own texts aloud as she's writing them.) Unfortunately, there are problems with all of this. The hearing actors voicing Emily and Sam are sometimes less subtle than their signing counterparts. Particularly early in their relationship, the voice of Emily is much more flirtatious than Bray's cautious Emily appears to be; the voice of Sam is more cocky than Kotsur's low-pressure Sam. As for the supertitles, they try to show with capitalization all of the speaking actors' emphasis, and try to show with spelling all of the speaking actors' accents. This is a place where less would be moreseeing the emphasized and accented language on the wall (particularly when it shows up a second before the actor says it) makes the vocal performance seem more scripted and phony. And every time the printed text does not match the line the actor says, we wonder if this was a last-minute script change which didn't yet make it into the supertitles or an actor who messed up a line. This is troublesome; we should just be watching the play.
The very best moment, interpretation-wise, is when Sam and Emily share a moment geeking out over Star Wars. Sam moves his hands around like he's swinging a lightsaber, and the actor voicing Sam perfectly makes that buzzing sound we all make when we're miming lightsabers. It isn't just that their timing is perfect (although it is), it is that in this silly moment, actor Sam and voice Sam genuinely come together into a single entityand you realize the entire play needs to do that for both Sam and Emily if it's really going to be everything it can be.
Arrival & Departure, through September 30, 2018, at The Fountain Theatre, 5060 Fountain Avenue, Los Angeles CA. For tickets and information, see www.FountainTheatre.com.
The Fountain Theatre presents Arrival & Departure written and directed by Stephen Sachs, inspired by the screenplay for Noel Coward's Brief Encounter. Scenic Design Matthew G. Hill; Lighting Design Donny Jackson; Sound Design & Original Music Peter Bayne; Costume Design Michael Mullen; Props Design Michael Navarro; Video Design Nicholas E. Santiago; Production Stage Manager Emily Lehrer; Asst. Stage Manager Deena Tova; ASL Stage Manager Brian Cole; ASL Masters Lisa Hermatz & Jevon Whetter; ASL Rehearsal Interpreters Andrew Leyva & Valerie Lines; Movement Director Gary Franco; Technical Director Scott Tuomey. Executive Producers Karen Kondazian, Carrie Chassin & Jochen Haber, Diana Buckhantz and The Vladimir and Araxia Buckhantz Foundation. Produced by Simon Levy - Deborah Culver - James Bennett. Directed by Stephen Sachs.