What was Selznick’s special interest in seeing our signed/spoken version of Cyrano? One of the main characters in his most recent book, Wonderstruck, is partially deaf.
In a Q&A with Publisher’s Weekly, Selznick talked about his book and deafness:
Where did the idea come from to include deaf characters?
I started what became Wonderstruck while I was still working on Hugo. I had been thinking about Deaf culture after seeing this really, really good documentary, Through Deaf Eyes, which is about the history of Deaf culture. There was a line about how the deaf are a “people of the eye.” Most of the ways they communicate is visually. To me, that was the perfect reason to tell a story about a deaf person through illustrations. I had met deaf people who told me the thing they liked most about Hugo was the silence. Even when you’re reading words, you hear those words in your head but telling a story through pictures, there’s a feeling of silence about that and they really liked that.
Carol Padden and Tom Humphries from the University of California-San Diego, two of the leading Deaf scholars in the country, read my manuscript again and again and again to help me fine-tune the experience of the Deaf culture to make sure it was true to deaf people in general and to these two characters I was writing about. They were incredibly generous with their time and there was no way I could have written the book without them.
There’s also a line in the acknowledgments about being deaf in a hearing family and having to look for one’s culture outside of one’s biological family. This made me think about being gay in a heterosexual family.
Yep. That’s exactly the parallel I was thinking about. In Through Deaf Eyes, there was a young man raised by hearing parents. His parents were great, incredibly supportive, but it wasn’t until he got to college that he became aware he was part of a larger culture that had its own history he could share and be proud of. Growing up gay, there’s this exact parallel. And you don’t have to be deaf or gay to feel like you don’t belong to your own family. So many people have the experience of feeling that the family they were born into is not a good fit: An artist who is born into a family of non–artists, or a kid who is not interested in sports who is born into a family of athletes — there are a million parallels for that situation. You have the family you’re born into but you have this need to meet other people who are uniquely like you. One of the things that people told me they were most moved by in Hugo was how he creates a new family for himself. That’s a truth for so many people. You leave your family and create a family for yourself that’s often a better fit. Wonderstruck is a more direct way of exploring that same theme.
On May 10, the cast and company of Cyrano enjoyed a Q&A Talk Back with the audience immediately following the performance. Joining the cast was director Simon Levy, playwrightStephen Sachs , and ASL Masters Tyrone Giordano and Shoshannah Stern. The cast answered questions from the audience on a wide range topics, including a discussion of the themes of the play, the rehearsal process, the ASL translation of the script, and the joy of performing the play as an actor.
A wonderful time was had by all, and the excited conversations continued in the theatre long after the official Q&A was over. Enjoy the photos!
Rave Reviews! Critic’s Choice in the Los Angeles Times!
Troy Kotsur and Erinn Anova
The Fountain Theatre and Deaf West Theatre have announced a four-week extension of Cyrano, a signed/spoken adaptation of “Cyrano de Bergerac” that has been re-set in modern-day Los Angeles. The Fountain/Deaf West co-production will continue Thursdays through Saturdays at 8 pm and Sundays at 2 pm through July 8.
Written by Fountain Theatre co-artistic director Stephen Sachs (Bakersfield Mist) and directed by Simon Levy, Cyrano stars Deaf West actor Troy Kostsur in the title role as a brilliant deaf poet hopelessly in love with Roxy, a beautiful hearing woman. But Roxy doesn’t understand sign language and instead loves Chris, his hearing brother. Can Cyrano express his love to Roxy with his hands? Or must he teach Chris to woo her, to “speak his words” for him? American Sign Language (ASL) becomes the language of love in this new spin on a classic love story.
Troy Kotsur and Paul Raci
Over a dozen reviewers have weighed in, earning Cyrano a score of “100% Sweet” on Bitter Lemons, the website that aggregates reviews of Los Angeles theater. “CRITIC’S CHOICE… inspired and inspiring! —Los Angeles Times; “CRITIC’S PICK…clever and deeply moving… bridges the gap between [deaf and hearing] worlds with poignancy and a huge dose of humor.” — Back Stage; “Skillful and impressive… terrific performances.” —LAist; “5 STARS… a poignant, inventive, riotously funny and marvelously satisfying masterpiece!”—Santa Monica Daily Press; “Nothing short of amazing… a dazzling accomplishment.” —Talkin’ Broadway; “A gem… fascinating on so many levels.” —Buzzine; “Superlative… an evening not to be missed.” —StageHappenings; “GO! [a] glorious swirl of words floating around the stage.” —LA Weekly; “An extraordinary production of a terrific play” —Latin Heat; “A sheer and exceptional pleasure.” —LifeInLA.
Cyrano continues through July 8 at The Fountain Theatre. For reservations and information, call 323 663-1525 orclick here.
Review: A refreshing take on ‘Cyrano’ at Fountain Theatre
Troy Kotsur and Erinn Anova (photo by Ed Krieger)
by Philip Brandes
Texting and email may have replaced quill and ink in “Cyrano” — Stephen Sachs’ contemporary re-envisioning of Edmond Rostand‘s classic drama — but the problematic nature of communication remains a constant. If anything, the theme gains new dimension and impact through the collision of hearing, deaf and online cultures in this inspired and inspiring adaptation’s debut co-production from the Fountain Theatre and Deaf West Theatre companies.
Performed simultaneously in spoken dialogue and American Sign Language by a mixed ensemble of hearing and deaf actors, Sachs’ moving adaptation transposes Rostand’s archetypal heroic outsider into a gifted coffeehouse poet whose inferiority complex is rooted in his deafness rather than his perfectly normal nose. Troy Kotsur excels as this modern Cyrano, who fears that talking with his hands poses an unbridgeable gulf between himself and Roxy (Erinn Anova) the hearing-only poetry fan he worships from afar. Learning that his beloved is in turn infatuated with his rock musician brother, Chris (Paul Raci), who has always been his “voice” in the hearing world, Cyrano returns the favor by composing romantic texts and emails to Roxy on Chris’ behalf (smartly rendered in videography by Jeffrey Elias Teeter).
Sachs’ adaptation skillfully maps Rostand’s principals to their updated versions. Torn between pride and loneliness, Kotsur’s Cyrano resists identifying with either the hearing or deaf communities — or the modern world, for that matter — and evokes the heartbreaking weight of the realization that self-sacrificing vicarious passion is not all it’s cracked up to be. Raci is by turns hilarious and poignant as clueless loser Chris, and Anova invests Roxy with the sensitivity and sense of isolation she unknowingly shares with Cyrano.
The few arguable limitations here lie in adhering a bit too faithfully to some creakier aspects of Rostand’s original (particularly the opening brawling sequence), but the performances quickly catch fire in Simon Levy’s well-paced and precisely focused staging. Besides offering a refreshing take on a classic, the signed/spoken presentation offers hearing folks the opportunity to appreciate sign language’s unique emotional expressiveness.
I have long been convinced that once you had seen Jose Ferrer in the role, you had no reason to see it done by anyone else. Ferrer was the definitive Cyrano; he won a Tony for his performance on Broadway and an Oscar for the film. As far as I was concerned, they might as well just hang up the sword and retire the white plume.
Until Troy Kotsur.
Kotsur, who renders the role of Cyrano in American Sign Language, is as articulate with his hands as Ferrer was with Edmond Rostand’s beautiful words. His hands dance while his face expresses his pain—the pain of being unique and alone.
As in the original, the plot deals with Cyrano’s unspoken passion for Roxanne (here called Roxy and portrayed by Erinn Anova), and his efforts to help another man win her love. In this case, the other man is not the soldier Christian, but Cyrano’s brother Chris (Paul Raci), an insensitive clod who plays in a rock band.
In Sachs’ adaptation, the setting is the present rather than the 17th century, and the messages that Cyrano composes for Chris are delivered by smart phones and e-mail and transported on eight computer screens strung across the stage.
Rather than a large nose, Kotsur’s “handicap” in this version is his deafness, and Sachs has adapted the whole play around this conceit. All the wonderful soliloquys are transmogrified to deal with deafness, rather than the nose that Cyrano was so distressed about. For instance, when a fellow patron in Roberta’s Café, where much of the play is set, insults him crudely about his deafness he delivers a series of bon mots that the man might have said instead, had he any brains or wit. Sample question: “If a deaf man loses one of his fingers, does he develop a stutter?”
The lines that Sachs puts in Cyrano’s mouth for this speech are even more clever and witty than Rostand’s. And anyone familiar with the original play will also relish the swordfight (here a fist-fight) in which Cyrano composes a poem while he fights. Or the “No, thank you” speech in which Cyrano tells his friend (Bob Hiltermann) why he prefers to be a loner rather than become a member of the deaf “community.”
Although Kotsur dominates the action (he never leaves the stage), he is surrounded by an ensemble (six deaf members out of 13) that is as perfect as he is. Whether dramatically voicing the words that the others are signing, or “speaking” the words with their expressive hands, the players are thrilling to watch, and under Simon Levy’s deft direction, Jeff McLaughlin’s clever set design, and Jeremy Pivnick’s creative lighting design, the play emerges as a poignant, inventive, riotously funny, and marvelously satisfying masterpiece.
This world premiere of Cyrano will run Thursdays through Saturdays at 8 p.m. and Sundays at 2 through June 10th at The Fountain Theatre, 5060 Fountain Ave., in Los Angeles. Call (323) 663-1525 or visit www.FountainTheatre.com for reservations.
The excitement of Opening Night on Saturday of our world premiere of Cyrano was given an added thrill by the attendance of Film/TV actress Marlee Matlin. Marlee is a longtime supporter of both Deaf West and the Fountain Theatre. She is a member of the Advisory Board at Deaf West, and she starred in the CBS TV-movie version of the Fountain Theatre play, Sweet Nothing in my Ear, written by Cyrano playwright Stephen Sachs.
The Cyrano cast was delighted to have Marlee with them on Opening Night. “She’s a sweetheart,” says cast member Eddie Buck. “I got compliments from her. She absolutely looks gorgeous.”
Actor Daniel Durant describes the encounter with Marlee as “a very big moment to meet and talk with such a great role model.”
Marlee Matlin at the Opening Night of "Cyrano" at the Fountain Theatre.
Cast members Eddie Buck, Ipek Mehlum, Maleni Chaitoo, and Daniel Durant enjoy the support of Marlee Matlin on Opening Night.
Marlee and Daniel Durant.
Actress Ipek Mehlum and Marlee Matlin share a laugh.