Tuesday, April 08, 2014

Not By Bread Alone Created by Adina Tal and the NALAGA’AT DEAF-BLIND THEATER ENSEMBLE

Not By Bread Alone
Tel-Aviv, Israel
Arts Emerson
April 1 to April 6th
Paramount Theatre

Review by Amy R. Tighe

I suppose it might be safe enough to tell you.
In the row in front of me are two women I haven’t spoken to for years . Once I was quite close to them but we had a bad falling out. We can see each other, but we act as if we don’t actually see one other.  They are three feet away and a universe apart.  I live in a culture where this is possible.  Excluding.  Isolating.  None of us have the courage to reach out.

As I entered the theatre, I thought the show was running late—usually the audience is settled and the lights darken and the show begins.  But there are people on the stage, standing in a line over a long table, kneading individual  balls of dough for bread, and wearing aprons and white puffy baker’s hats. Flour streams in the air like smoke. I am disoriented—a stickler for being on time, I can’t understand why the lights are on, the bakers working and we available to watch their work.

The actors hands have a presence of their own- they are present to their dough, creating the necessary texture it needs to rise. The care and the intelligence in their fingers is strong.  I somehow can feel that their gravity is different, that it comes from a different dimension though their patient touch.
“Not by Bread Alone” is created by the NALAGA’AT DEAF –BLIND THEATRE ENSEMBLE from Israel. The troupe formed in 2007 and this is their second production.

All of the actors are blind and deaf. Some had full sight and then lost it.  Some have never heard a word. All are verbal but not all have found access to a spoken language. All of the cast and crew believe “that we can, must and deserve to change the reality we live in.” Theatre and community building are vital to their work.
At first I was distracted by trying to figure out who could see and who couldn’t.  I suppose I can tell you that I married a man who was completely blind but his eyes could track you as though he saw you. We played jokes on people who did not know he didn’t see, and merely thought I was a pushy wife to direct him on my arm so much.

So I am used to looking into eyes that have no idea I am there.

The show begins and a narrator tells us that when a beautiful blonde woman walks by it means nothing to him! He prefers slim strong  hands with silver rings on them. And we all laugh because it’s a safe joke but some of us are not sure if he can hear us. So, some of the audience use sign language for clapping—waving fingers in the air, but we don’t know if he sees that, either.  Are we heard?

A screen at the top of the stage projects the script. We are learning stories, we are able to see the words, see the actors, see the stage and watch them work.  Are we seen?

“I was blind at birth, I lost my hearing at 15. I had sight and hearing and both one year before my nephew was born and when I could not see his face, then I knew I was truly blind.  I was born deaf and my father said it God who had done this. I sit with people who laugh and I can not hear them so I feel completely alone in the group. Sometimes the complete darkness and silence makes my thoughts  lonely.”  So many of these words are the same as mine, same as the words I often hear from friends.

These stories are cleanly told, everyone in the audience understands, the communication is clear.
As a troupe, the actors touch one another for cues, directions and when they leave the stage together, they form a chain with one arm on the person ahead of them so they do not get lost.  Each actor has a darkened angel, a personal interpreter, who taps them, leads them on and off stage, guiding them. One actor, completely blind, walks boldly forward to meet an actress in a scene and misses her. His darkened angel walks calmly on stage, taps him, angles him in the right direction and walks calmly off stage, ever watching and the scene continues.  With simplicity, he has showed me his healed courage.

“But we have dreams.” The stage changes, the darkened angels move their actors into place—sitting on a calm and thorough swing, walking a baby carriage while smiling on stilts, standing in a boat on turgid waters, hiking and bird watching with giant birds. “Swaying before the beauty of creation …”  We dream. We dance. We know you are out there and these dreams are in here.  You can see us. We know you can.
In several stories, the actors say that only by holding a hand can they know they connect. The scent of bread rises, the words “darkness and dreams and silence and loneliness” keep being projected on the screen, the play begins to end and we might meet these people.

Maybe this is a home coming.

I think I could tell you I was raised Catholic, scared of breaking  bread,  eating the Christ and knowing his suffering. I am scared of this communion with people who have lost so much. “I can smell the bread” one says in joy.  He has found our common body.  Have I lost so much in this short life I don’t even notice when I smell the bread?

The play is over, the curtain calls are completed, and we are invited on stage to eat and meet.  Hebrew, English, Sign and laughter are shared.  And bread.

I don’t want to tell you that a few minutes later, on the subway, my fellow travelers are focused on unhuman technology which they push, trying  to communicate.  We do not see one another in this fast moving box. Moments ago, on a stage, I touched and was touched by hands that understand human communication in the exact and unfathomable ways that define us as human.

I don’t remember, but I suppose that at times in my mother’s womb it was very dark and very silent. I suppose I was full of the knowing that only I would be the one to travel her body to claim my own. I had courage then. I have been afraid to tell you that isolation has become my culture’s daily bread and sometimes this darkness stops me from reaching.

With their fierce simplicity, humorous kindness and elegant courage, the actors of the NALAGA’AT Ensemble show us how to do what humans do: they invite us in, touch us back, open their hands and offer their bread.  And teach us to heal our own wounded courage. 

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