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STAGE / NANCY CHURNIN : ‘Seeing Place’ Has Message on Education of the Deaf

Howie Seago, the deaf actor who received much critical acclaim in the La Jolla Playhouse productions of “Ajax” and “The Tempest” a few years back, will star in a new play, “Seeing Place.” It was written by his old friend Rico Peterson and will run at the La Jolla Museum of Contemporary Art tonight and Saturday only.

Peterson last teamed up with Seago in 1978 with a show called “Frozen Dinner Theater,” commissioned by the National Assn. for the Deaf, and presented at the Hotel del Coronado.

“Seeing Place,” about the education of deaf children, should hit close to home for Seago, who plays the adult product of the educational system for the deaf; Peterson said he based some of the play on Seago’s own experiences.

The production will also be a family affair. Peterson’s wife, Freda Norman, a deaf actress, will play a hearing instructor of the deaf. Seago’s son, Ryan, will play Seago’s character at age 4, and Peterson’s son, Niko, will play Seago’s character at 9. Peterson will not only direct, he will act the part of a woman who is developing a computerized system for writing sign language down on paper.

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The play stirred up some controversy in its very first production, which was just last week at California State University, Northridge, Peterson said.

“Deaf Hollywood hated it,” he said. “We’re pointing fingers at a process which doesn’t work. We say things that make people uncomfortable.”

One sacred cow that Peterson attacks is mainstreaming--sending deaf children to hearing schools and expecting them to keep up. Peterson said the result is that the children are “shunted off to the side” and it’s not unusual for bright deaf children to end up graduating high school with a fourth- or fifth-grade education because regular teachers don’t know how to work with them. Another problem he sees is the lack of work for deaf actors; he cites Seago and his wife as prime examples.

Most of “Seeing Place” will be simultaneously spoken and signed, except for a few passages, including one with an elderly deaf couple, that is signed only. Synopses of those passages will be provided in the program.

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Another new play having a world premiere tonight is “First Star,” a musical by the young New York team of Mitchell Ivers and Steven Lutvak.

Lutvak, who wrote the music and co-wrote the lyrics, has been nominated for a Drama Desk Award for his musical, “Hanna Senesh,” which played off Broadway at the Cherry Lane Theatre and continues to tour the United States and Canada.

“First Star,” which follows the fortunes of the first acting troupe in America, the Hallam Company, will bring an interesting experiment full circle when it makes its debut at San Diego State University’s Don Powell Theatre, where it plays through May 12.

Director Robert Chapel, chairman of the SDSU musical theater program, had been involved in developing musical theater when he taught at New York University, the same place where Ivers and Lutvak got their training. Knowing the often prohibitively high costs of developing a new musical, he offered the team the opportunity to develop the musical at SDSU where the two-stage process, beginning with a workshop production and ending with the current, fully staged show, wouldn’t cost much more than any other show on the university’s budget.

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“First Star” will star California Ballet principal and Three’s Company founder Patrick Nollet as actor Thomas Wignell.

Two days before opening night, Ivers sounded nervous but extremely happy; he and Lutvak have already put in several years on this project.

“Every once in a while I look at it and I can’t believe it’s going to be up on stage with a 17-piece orchestra and a massive set. It’s really been a terrific experience.”

If you’re looking for a theatrical way to celebrate Cinco de Mayo, the Mexican celebration of a victory over the French, check out Mascara Magica, a 2-year-old ensemble which will present a comic performance piece called “Cinco de Mayo” at the underground stage in the lower lobby of the Lyceum Theatre at 10:30 p.m. Admission is free.

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Also, on Saturday the cast of Latins Anonymous, the comedy which will open the San Diego Repertory Theatre’s season, will perform at the Cinco de Mayo celebration in Vista, appearing at the Moonlight Amphitheater at 3:45 p.m. They will also perform for the Chicano Federation’s 25th Anniversary Gala at the Convention Center later in the evening.

Next Friday only, “Cafe Con Leche,” a Spanish production by the 22-year old Obie award winning company, Repertorio Espanol, will be presented in Spanish at Mandeville Auditorium at UC San Diego at 8 p.m. The title, which means “Coffee with Milk,” is used as a metaphor for a Cuban family’s struggle to maintain its cultural integrity in New York City.

PROGRAM NOTES: The new Geoff Hoyle play at the La Jolla Playhouse now has a name: “Don Quixote De La Jolla.” The show, written by Eric Overmyer for a company of five, including Hoyle, will be a twist on “Don Quixote,” Miguel de Cervantes’ 17-Century novel. Directed by Stan Wojewodski Jr., it will play Aug. 12-Sept. 16 in the Warren Theatre. . . .

The San Diego Comic Opera Company has finished its season with a surplus going thanks to a successful run of “The Gondoliers.” Next up for the formerly named San Diego Gilbert & Sullivan Company will be the company’s first season to deviate from Gilbert & Sullivan fare. The season includes “The Beggars Opera,” Sept. 14-23; Exposition Band Concert circa 1915, Oct. 5-7; “Rose Marie,” April 4-7, and “H.M.S. Pinafore,” June 21-30. . . .

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Memories: Don and Bonnie Ward, co-artistic directors of the Starlight Musical Theatre, will have cameo parts in their season opener, “Follies,” opening May 24 at the San Diego Civic Theatre. The long-married couple and former dancing team play Vincent and Vanessa, semi-retired dancers who have bought a Arthur Murray-like franchise. They perform one dance number with two young actors playing the ghosts of their youth dancing behind them. . . .

Diversionary Theatre and Thomas Vegh, the former artistic director of the theater, will both be opening productions on the same night: May 12. Diversionary will present Jane Chambers’ “A Late Snow,” focusing on the tangled relationships of five women trapped in a cabin in the snow, continuing Fridays and Saturdays through May at 2222 Broadway. Vegh will be directing “Murder at Cafe Noir,” presented by the Mystery Cafe, the San Diego debut of a national interactive murder/mystery dinner theater at the Imperial House Restaurant uptown. “Murder at Cafe Noir,” an interactive murder mystery, in which the audience interacts with the actors (who serve the dinner) and helps choose the direction the play will take, also runs Fridays and Saturdays at 8 for an open-ended run.


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