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‘Reflections’ interesting look at struggle

play review For an education in multiculturalism, a better lesson can’t be found than “Reflections of a Black Deaf Woman,” now at The Victory Theatre Center in Burbank.

Playwright/performer Michelle Banks, herself hearing impaired, presents an engaging 90-minute autobiographical piece full of charm accented by disturbing revelations.

Through vignettes given voice by interpreter Theresa “Mama T” Sharp, Banks chronicles her nuclear family: a protective, deaf mother; an absent, almost inconsequential father; and a psychologically challenged older brother.

Director Jeffrey Anderson-Gunter displays a steady hand as Banks’ tales, based on her journal accounts, transition between her mother’s life experiences and her own.

Along the way, both women struggle with the discrimination heaped on the deaf culture, not to mention the shocking effects of racism.

This, coupled with Banks’ physically animated performance style, at first glance sets a highly aggressive tone as she describes via American Sign Language her innermost feelings.

Credit set designer Michael Boucher then for aiding the production immeasurably with a warmly furnished, apartment-like living room in which she presents her story.

Further, incorporating African- and Jamaican-influenced accessories, such as masks, wall hangings and material swags, helps to temper the play’s sometimes harsher moments.

Displaying a remarkable knack for illuminating this tiny venue’s intimate space, lighting designer Carlos Colunga provides well-defined playing areas.

Meanwhile, uncredited costuming gives Banks the opportunity to transport us not only within her range of characterizations but through time periods as well.

During her sometimes lengthy offstage wardrobe changes, drummer Jai Jae Kabasa, seated on an upstage platform, supplies rhythmic segues.

Still it is the onstage relationship Banks and Sharp display that keeps one’s attention riveted throughout this one-act piece.

Their ad-libs and interjections mix easily with moments taken to clarify the meaning of a gesture or intention, thereby gluing the audience to the edge of its seats.

For those who are not hearing impaired, it is a remarkable lesson in interconnectedness. These two performers act as one, each providing those parts necessary to achieve the whole.

Does it get a bit melodramatic at times? Perhaps, but what one is witnessing is storytelling at its most fundamental level.

Anderson-Gunter’s commendable direction, however, makes sure Banks never strays from her message. Her life and that of her mother are not ones of failure and inabilities but rather testimonies of endurance and strength.

As she closes with the revelation that she is, in real life, engaged and planning a family, we see Banks’ story line come full circle.

Only then is it clear that this production’s title is of a double meaning.

Michelle Banks has truly reflected on and is the reflection of a black deaf woman.

FYI

WHAT: “Reflections of a Black Deaf Woman” by Michelle Banks

WHEN: 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays and 4 p.m. Sundays through Feb. 26.

WHERE: The Victory Theatre Center, 3324 W. Victory Blvd, Burbank

TICKETS: $20 to $28

PHONE: (818) 841-5422 and (818) 843-9253 tty WEBSITE: www.thevictorytheatre

center.org

* DINK O’NEAL of Burbank is an actor.

20060125h9ekptkf(LA)Dink O’Neal20060125itmhy4nc(LA)Michelle Banks, right, tells her story in sign language, interpreted verbally by Theresa “Mama T” Sharp, in “Reflections of a Black Deaf Woman” at The Victory Theatre Center in Burbank.


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