Using its signature, award-winning combination of signed and voiced theater to bring new perspective to a modern American classic, Deaf West Theatre presents “Flowers for Algernon” at the Whitefire Theatre, now through November 3, 2013.
Matthew McCray directs David Rogers’ stage adaptation of Daniel Keyes’ moving novel about an intellectually disabled man who undergoes experimental surgery to increase his IQ to the level of genius.
Poignant, funny and thought-provoking, “Flowers for Algernon” is the story of Charlie Gordon (Daniel N. Durant), a willing subject of an extraordinary experiment, and the strange interweaving of his life with Algernon, a mouse whose intelligence has been increased threefold by the daring new procedure. When the operation is performed on intellectually disabled Charlie, his mental capacity changes and so does his life.
Suddenly, Charlie (voiced by Josh Breslow) must deal with his blossoming love for his former teacher (Hillary Baack); the uncovered memory of how he was treated as a child by his mother (Sarah Lilly) and sister (Crystal Lott); the complications that arise when his own intelligence exceeds that of his employer (Melanie H. Vansell) and his doctors (Charles Katz, Bruce Katzman and Alek Lev); and conflicting emotions regarding his own former, childhood self (voiced by Sean Eaton).
Deaf West Theatre productions weave American Sign Language (ASL) with spoken English to create a seamless ballet of movement and voice. In a unique twist on the “Flowers for Algernon” story, Charlie learns to celebrate his deaf identity and becomes a master of ASL, a “super-signer.”
“ASL will be the visual embodiment of the high IQ that Charlie achieves,” says Deaf West artistic director David J. Kurs. “As Charlie’s IQ grows, his signing will become ever more fluent and beautiful, until he is creating pictures in the air.
“Because our natural intelligence is often masked, Charlie’s experience is similar in some ways to that of the average deaf person,” Kurs explains. “When we’re young, we’re subjected to a battery of medical tests and are often at the mercy of the medical profession. Our parents aren’t always able to embrace that we are different and want to make us ‘better.’ Cochlear implants and other procedures that could possibly offer perfect hearing have brought about the question: what does the future hold for the deaf community?”
In Deaf West’s production, deafness becomes a metaphor for the ongoing “disability vs. difference” debate.
“Flowers for Algernon” was first published as a short story in 1959 in “The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction.” It was reprinted many times in many languages and won the Hugo Award. In 1961, the U.S. Steel Hour telecast a dramatic version called “The Two Worlds of Charlie Gordon,” starring Cliff Robertson. From 1962 to 1965, Keyes worked on the novel-length version. It was published in 1966, winning the Nebula Award, and is now still available in both hardcover and Bantam paperback editions (Harcourt, Brace, 1966; Bantam, 1968, reissued in the Harcourt Brace Modern Classics series, 1995). It has been widely translated and is studied in schools and colleges around the world. Cliff Robertson won an Academy Award for his performance in the 1968 movie version, “Charly.”
“Flowers for Algernon” performs 8 p.m. Thursday, Friday and Saturday and 2 p.m. Sunday through November 3. General admission is $30; a $20 “back to school” special is being offered the first three weeks of performances for students with a valid ID (through October 13); and there will be one pay-what-you-can performance on Sunday, October 13. Call 818-762-2998 (voice) or visit www.deafwest.org.
The Whitefire Theatre is located at 13500 Ventura Blvd. in Sherman Oaks, CA 91423. There is ample street parking. The theater is air-conditioned and wheelchair accessible.