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Actors use sign language and text messaging to communicate in the play 'Cyrano' by The Fountain and Deaf West theatres. It's a modern twist on Edmond Rostand's 'Cyrano de Bergerac.'

 

You might think that a play hinging on the essential nature of language would pose a challenge for deaf artists. 

But “Cyrano,” a world premiere collaboration between The Fountain Theatre and Deaf West Theatre, has been extended twice, more than doubling the length of its initial run.

In his classic 19th century romance “Cyrano de Bergerac,” Edmond Rostand tells the tale of a soldier, nobleman and poet who fears expressing his longing for Roxanne because he thinks she could never love a man with a nose as enormous as his.

Roxanne loves Christian but she’s cultured and he’s simple. Cyrano agrees to give Christian the words he needs to prove himself worthy of Roxanne’s love, while allowing Cyrano to secretly express his own feelings. Roxanne thinks she loves Christian, but Cyrano’s poetry touches her soul.

Stephen Sachs, co-artistic director of The Fountain Theatre, has re-imagined Cyrano (Troy Kotsur) as a deaf poet in love with Roxy (Erinn Anova), a beautiful hearing woman who desires his brother Chris (Paul Raci), a singer who has a way with sex, drugs and rock n’ roll — but not with words.

Cyrano’s deafness means he can express himself only through his hands, the obstacle preventing him from telling Roxy, who cannot sign, how he feels about her. Chris can hear, sign and speak but can’t communicate in a meaningful way.

As the play opens, Cyrano comes out swinging belligerently, interrupting a poetry slam and getting into a physical fight. While it rages, Roxy and Chris make eye contact across the room. When Roxy reaches out to Cyrano via text message, he gets excited, thinking she likes him.

They meet at a coffee house, and since he can’t hear and she can’t sign they communicate by text message. He’s crushed when she asks for help to “hook up” with Chris.

Although in despair, Cyrano offers to help Chris woo Roxy with words, pouring out the poetry of his own passion while posing as Chris in e-mail and text messages to her.

Chris is crazy about Roxy, but she’s crazier about Cyrano’s words, and once they actually do “hook up,” Chris just can’t live up to her expectations.

There is genuine affection between these two brothers; Cyrano says, “If I were given the power to hear for just five minutes, I would choose to hear you sing. Take my signs and speak them to her.” Chris, who admires and adores his brother, only agrees to the scheme because “I get to find out what it is to be you.”

Of the 13 actors, six are deaf. The staging is fully integrated, hearing actors speak aloud what the deaf are signing. And given social media’s starring role, seven onstage screens scroll the Tweets, Facebook posts and texts between Cyrano (as Chris) and Roxy.

American Sign Language has its own syntax, sentence structure, slang, humor, subtlety and complexity. The written script was translated by specialists Tyrone Giordano and Shoshannah Stern collaborating with the deaf actors. Director Simon Levy worked closely with the interpreters in rehearsals. 

Not knowing that Cyrano is sending the messages of love, Roxy tells Chris, “Your language is three dimensional. I see it floating in the air in front of me.” Watching the hands of the deaf, American Sign Language is uniquely communicative. Facial expressions and flying fingers are translated expressively into speech that dynamically matches the signed emotions.

Because it has continuously sold out performances, “Cyrano” receives one final extension through July 29 at The Fountain Theatre, 5060 Fountain Ave. in Los Angeles, Thursdays through Saturdays at 8 p.m., Sundays at 2 p.m. For reservations and information, call (323) 663-1525 or go to www.FountainTheatre.com.

 

Food as theatre

 

More than a million Angelenos will go to bed hungry tonight, yet we’re facing an epidemic of disease-inducing obesity. At one end of the spectrum is food as spectator sport or pop culture trend, at the other is a lack of access to fresh produce and an overabundance of sugary drinks and junk food. 

In south Los Angeles, an area hard hit by food inequities, two plays about urban agriculture take place this week.

Cornerstone Theatre Co., which immerses itself in rural and urban communities to tell the stories of the people who live there, has a multi-year project called The Hunger Cycle, and tonight there’s a community reading of the next play in the series, “SEED: A Weird Act of Faith” by company member Sigrid Gilman, which opens in autumn.

In contrast with “Café Vida,” the first play based on a true tale of two former gang rivals now working together at Homegirl Café, this is a fantasy-mythical play replete with gods and goddesses, puppets and people, that shines light on the connections between urban and rural farming, and the journey our food takes from farm to plate.

If any open spaces remain, RSVP immediately to Raquel Gutiérrez at rgutierrez@cornerstonetheater.org or call (213) 613-1700 x119. The reading takes place at the Community Services Unlimited’s Mini-Urban Farm at Expo Center, 3900 S. Menlo Ave., Los Angeles from 5:30 p.m. to 8 p.m. tonight.

Or plant a seed yourself to help a new garden grow in Leimert Park.

“Guardin’ Roots” is playwright Mohammed Ali Ojarigi’s response to the transformative experience of L.A.’s Community Market Conversion program, which helps turns convenience stores into healthy neighborhood markets.

His wife Moya Ojarigi says, “Ever since we volunteered for the Community Market Conversion program my husband became intrigued by the issue of food access. It resonated with him on a very personal level.”

Minimally funded through a Kickstarter campaign, the play follows the challenges of an ex-con being tempted by his old life, who finds redemption in an urban garden.

The final two performances are this Friday and Saturday nights at 7 p.m., at the Barbara Morrison Performing Arts Center, 4305 Degnan Blvd., Suite 101, Los Angeles. For tickets go to www.brownpapertickets.com/event/247249.

Plantable seeds are included with admission.

 

Sarah A. Spitz is a former freelance arts producer for NPR and former staff producer at public radio station KCRW-Santa Monica. She reviews theatre for LAOpeningNights.com.