Life offered a double whammy to C.J. Jones. It was tough enough being a young African-American in pre–civil rights St. Louis; being deaf made things twice as hard. Still, thanks to a gift for comedy and performing, and having inherited the lightning-fast agility of his champion boxer father, Jones prevailed and managed to forge his own fancy footwork rather than following in that of his domineering dad. Jones chronicles these aspects of his life in this highly entertaining two-person solo show, directed by Steve Rothman. In the tradition of Deaf West, which presents the onstage unity of hearing/deaf worlds, Paul Raci simultaneously voice interprets for Jones as the actor takes us on a 75-minute journey. Raci keeps characters clear and distinct, and never insults Jones' father or other deaf characters when they speak. Indeed, Jones' humor and Raci's talent particularly shine through in a very funny bit about his dad trying, and failing miserably, to pronounce the different names of his seven kids.
The story tends to bang from incident to incident like blows to the body-sized punching bag hanging onstage. Transitions are often jarring or occasionally not even there, and assumptions sometimes take the place of real explanations. But the ragged, uneven quality of the script is eased by Jones' enormous energy, abundant charm, and terrific sense of humor.
Jones' parents were deaf and all their children hearing—that is, until Charles (later known as C.J.) lost his hearing at age 7 after a long illness. Rather than being dismayed, his parents rejoiced: Now they had at least one child with whom they could share their culture and who would understand them the way the others could not. Deafness also fostered a bond between father and son that was as full of intensity as it was fraught with frustration. Dad, a former Golden Glove boxer, taught his young son early on that he would have to fight hard for what he wanted. Set/costume designer and installation artist Karyl Newman's segment of a boxing ring emphasizes this point. It is backed by a ceiling-high projection screen for multimedia displays, which add great impact to the show.
Humor is a common means of self-defense, and Jones used it as such to gain favor with an abusive father, who browbeat his son with the mantra that hearing people were stupid and Charles was smarter than they were. Happily, having turned that mechanism into a career as an actor and comic, Charles managed to get the last laugh.
"What Are You…Deaf?," presented by and at Deaf West Theatre, 5112 Lankershim Blvd., North Hollywood. Thu.-Fri. 8 p.m., Sat. 2 & 8 p.m., Sun. 3 p.m. May 15-June 20. $15-20. (818) 762-2773.