Karl Marx said that history was a story told first as tragedy and then again as farce. Apples and Oranges is a tale told twice, too – both times as sit-coms.
In one version, Dana and Rex (portrayed by the fine deaf actors Sandra Mae Frank and Lance Hall) are a deaf couple, who express their travails in gesture and ASL. In the other, they are a hearing couple (Amanda Zeitler and Jack Powers, also doing good work). Aside from this single difference, they are the same people, experiencing the same challenges and resolving them in the same way.
It’s an interesting concept. Because ASL has little tone, even for those fluent in it, good deaf actors compensate by making strong and bold choices with their faces and bodies. Frank and Hall are good actors, and it is a pleasure to watch the way they fling themselves into Rex and Dana’s frustrations and passions.
It would be an even more interesting concept if playwright Jessica Willoughby had actually put together a story. Regrettably, Rex and Dana appear to live lives of utter conventionality, occasionally seasoned with stereotype and cliché. Rex forgets to change the role of toilet paper. Dana spends too much time shopping with her friends. Rex plays video games and ignores Dana. Dana has lost interest in sex. And so on. If you’re thinking “they should see a marriage counselor”, let me assure you that they do. This is how I found out about most of these problems.
Apples & Oranges
by Jessica Willoughby
at The Gilbert C. Eastman Studio Theatre
800 Florida Ave NE
Washington, DC, 20003
Details and tickets
The story meanders from event to event. About three-quarters of the way through, director Tim Chamberlain delivers dialogue from offstage when Frank and Hall are Dana and Rex, and stands on stage to interpret when Zeitler and Powers deliver the dialogue verbally. This spoils the experiment, which was (to me, anyway) to see how a story delivered through movement and gesture conveys an identical story delivered through dialogue.
At another point the cast invites members of the audience to come on stage to act out various portions of the story. There is a certain charm to risking such a catastrophe (although the impromptu actors at the show I saw acquitted themselves pretty well) but it iis no substitute for a good story.
At the end, the story simply stops. It is just as well. We have seen Dana and Rex portrayed by hearing actors, by deaf actors, and by surprised audience members, but no matter how you cut it, they never rise above the mundane.