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Children of a Lesser God
BY DOTTIE HUGHES
Special to The Observer
NEW SMYRNA BEACH, February 14, 2002 -
New Smyrna Beach - Actors at the Little Theatre are
making lots of signs these days as they prepare for
Children of a Lesser God. Not only must they memorize
their speaking parts, but they also need sign language to
perform this play, and have and to work twice as hard as
The award-winning drama explores the differences between
the deaf and the hearing world. For the first time in its
55-year history, the Little Theatre will present two
Saturday night sign-interpreted performances for the
This deeply moving play is about Sarah, a spirited young
deaf woman and James, a hearing speech therapist at a
school for the deaf.
He tries, with little success, to help Sarah. They fall
in love and marry as they struggle to understand each
other's needs and feelings.
The playwright, Mark Medoff, loosely based the female
part on a deaf actress, Phyllis Frelich, who started on
Broadway and won a Tony Award for her portrayal of Sarah.
LT Director, Shelly
Wawrzonek, said that there were some of the
special challenges in directing this play. "With the
exception of the two lead actors, all the cast members
had to learn sign language to some degree. We had
interpreters at all the rehearsals to teach and to
interpret for my daughter, Margie," said Wawrzonek.
"Besides the obvious problems with speaking and
signing, the play is written from inside James' mind and
things that happen on stage are his thoughts.
Where most plays are brought from auditions to opening
night in six weeks, this play has required ten weeks and
lots of extra rehearsals.
Margie Wawrzonek, who, like the
character, Sarah, has been deaf since birth, plays Sarah.
"I know the character's emotions because I am
deaf," Margie said. "All I had to do was read
the script to understand."
An experienced actress, Margie studied at the National
Theatre for the Deaf where all performances are in sign
language with both hearing and deaf actors. At one time,
she took acting classes from Phyllis Frelich.
Margie understands Sarah's frustration with people trying
to get her to speak. "I also understand that Sarah's
promiscuity was her only connection to the hearing world.
In the bedroom she could be just like everyone
twinkle in her eye, she says, "It's been fun to
watch the cast learning to sign. Sometimes they use the
wrong signs or they make up signs.
I've had no problem working with a hearing cast since we
always have a rehearsal interpreter and, of course, Mom
In the role of James, the deaf schoolteacher who tries to
help Sarah, is local Realtor and life-long area resident,
"My parents were both deaf and as the oldest of five
children, I felt they were special," says Goodrich.
"I learned sign language at an early age and would
interpret for them."
Asked how he learned sign language, he replied, "As
hearing people learn to speak, that's how I learned sign
language. It just happened."
Since this very difficult role is also Cecil's acting
debut, he put in many hours of extra rehearsal time. He
says it was especially difficult verbalizing what Sarah
says nad trying to concentrate not only on lines, but
sign language, as well.
"But I like challenges and feel that I'm up to
it," he said. Everyone at the Little Theatre has
been very supportive."
This is the first time Shelly and Margie have worked
together. "It's a special moment in my life working
with Mom. It's very different from working with other
directors." Margie said. "Sometimes I feel a
little inhibited, like when I have to kiss James on stage
and I know she's watching."
Long time actress and director Shelly said that it has
been wonderful working with her daughter.
"She's a fine actress. I always wanted to work with
my father who was an actor and never had the opportunity.
Working with Margie has fulfilled my dream," she
Supporting cast roles include Orin, David
Jenkins; Lydia, Tara Jenkins;
Mrs. Norman, Susan Wagner; Mr. Franklin,
Scott Hazard; and Edna Klein, Debbi
The production crew staff are Stage Manager and
Production Coordinator, Debbi Zill;
Technical Director, Bill Roehrborn; Set
Decoration, Mary Monnier; Lights and
Sound, Diane Christian; Properties, Camille
Dickinson; Costumes, Rose Dingas;
Make-up, Karin Jenkins; Publicity, Dottie
Hughes; Programs, Dottie Hughes
and Nancy Linn; and Photography by Tom
Wood at Beachside Photo.
Sign language interpreters and consultants are Katie
Allman, Nancy Ellis, Robin
Evans, Jeff Moffett and Judy