I recently saw a staged reading of a show called The Loudest Man on Earth, by Catherine Rush. The play is about a hearing woman who meets a deaf man and they start a relationship. Her family’s not in love with the relationship, partly because he’s slightly older than she is, and his family seems to be out of the picture. He’s defensive about being deaf, and tends to be angry at the world. They go through a rocky period, and after that I don’t really want to give any spoilers.
The BRILLIANT thing about the play is that the man mainly signs (he does speak occasionally, which is a major plot point). The woman signs and speaks a lot, but there are times she only signs. The play is not interpreted, so there are scenes that are totally spoken, and scenes that are totally signed, and then some scenes are mixed. So it’s unlikely than most audience members would understand every single thing that is said.
It’s about communication, both between these two characters, and also between them and the rest of the world.
There are transitional scenes, where Jordan (the male character) is writing letters to Haylee (the female character), describing scenes from their life together. They’re entirely signed, and completely beautiful. They’re love letters, about their first date, or a story about him watching her while she’s sleeping, but also they’re letters describing his childhood and his relationship with his parents and his difficulties growing up and being completely unable to hear anything.
The play was gorgeous, and it was only a staged reading. I was teary through most of it, and I lost it at the end. I lose it a lot lately, so I know that’s part of it, but seriously, I’ve been so psyched about this script since the first time I read it months ago, and I knew it was going to be great.
I think a lot of what I loved about it was that I am enchanted by American Sign Language. When I was 12 or 13, and working at the camp my family worked at every summer, we met a guy a couple years older than me. He was deaf and most of my friends and I communicated with him primarily by writing. He would carry around a spiral notebook and we would just write back and forth. After the first summer though, a lot of us got interested in ASL and ended up taking classes, so in later years there was some signing (although still a lot of writing – and drawing).
In high school I ended up taking 3 semesters of ASL, which I used for my foreign language grad requirement instead of taking Spanish. As with many high school things, I regret not paying more attention, or practicing more, or sticking with it, or appreciating the opportunity I was given. My parents took the same classes, and it was fun when, for awhile, our family was signing to each other and practicing with each other and going to night classes together.
ASL is fascinating to me for several reasons. I love the grammar structure. I love the beauty of it, of watching someone who is fluent, and the grace and the deliberateness of each gesture. I also love the fact that even though I have forgotten almost everything from those classes 10 years ago, so much of it came back to me so easily. Watching someone tell a story in ASL is so much easier to understand than listening to someone tell a story in another verbal language with which you’re not familiar.
The story of The Loudest Man on Earth is not complicated. It’s a boy-meets-girl story. That’s not to say it’s simple or easy. But the twist to it just makes it something so special, in my mind and, I think, in a lot of other people’s minds as well. I sincerely hope to be able to see a fully-realized production of this play sometime in the future. Fingers crossed.