Review: “Children of a Lesser God” Is As Offensive As Ever

Christian Lewis
6 min readApr 12, 2018

Contrary to popular belief, deafness is not a curse, it is not the end of the world, it is not something that necessarily needs to be cured. In fact, many deaf people do not consider themselves disabled, but instead classify themselves as belonging to a linguistic community. If you only speak Albanian, being in a room of English-speaking people is no different than being a deaf person in a room full of hearing and speaking people. Thus, not all deaf people want to read lips, learn how to speak, or get cochlear implants.

Theoretically, all of this information is the theme of Mark Medoff’s 1979 play, “Children of a Lesser God,” the revival of which opened at Studio 54 on Wednesday. The play concerns Sarah Norman, a deaf woman, and her teacher-turned-husband James Leeds. James, played by Joshua Jackson, is passionate about teaching his deaf students to communicate not through sign language, but through speech, something that is often difficult, embarrassing, and frustrating for deaf people. Sarah, played by Lauren Ridloff, refuses to even attempt speaking.

In an unexpected (and unsubstantiated) plot twist, they somehow fall in love and get married, although it is unclear when, how, or why this happens. Soon, James learns that with the marriage comes a lifetime of being an interpreter, a role he clearly does not want. From there, tensions arise as James and Sarah fight over their different opinions of deafness, speech, children, and the future.

James represents everything wrong with the way society thinks about deafness. However, the play itself often tells us he is wrong, mainly through Sarah and her deaf friend/student/teacher/activist, Orin (played by John McGinty), both of who constantly disagree with him and tell him that he’ll never understand what it is like to live in their silence.

Despite the fact that James is told he is wrong, this entire production is focalized through him; he is perpetually at the center and never leaves the stage. Mr. Jackson gives a completely unenthusiastic, lackluster performance, producing a pompous and condescending vibe that, like him, never seems…

--

--

Christian Lewis

Theater Critic. Vassar College alum, current PhD candidate at the CUNY Graduate Center.