In this solo drama, written and performed by Michael Bonnabel, with assistance and input from actor-monologist Ann Randolph and director Mark Neely, Bonnabel tells us what it was like growing up among several hearing siblings in a family headed by deaf parents. The children had, early on, to act as advisers and interpreters for their parents, which Bonnabel compares to being the son of immigrants who have not yet learned the language of their new country, or being a mediator between two countries. In the beginning, his elder siblings took on those roles, but as they began to move out in the world, the mantle fell on Bonnabel. At age 6, he had to assist his parents in dealing with the bank about the mortgage on their home, help his mother communicate with doctors about her embarrassing hemorrhoids, and deal with many other issues that were hard for a child to grasp. Inevitably he felt unequal to the job, but there was no one else to take up the slack, so he had to soldier on.
He tells us how his loving mother offered support as he strove to understand his irascible, emotionally reserved father while simultaneously trying to earn his love and respect. The family must weather the father's successful battle with cancer and the death of a cherished sister in an auto crash. One of the most poignant episodes deals with the family's visit to a mortuary to select a coffin for the sister. But though many of the issues dealt with—including death and disease—are grim, the piece is never depressing. It's informed throughout by the love and affection that bind the family together.
Bonnabel delivers a couple of songs, a slideshow of family pictures, and plenty of comedy, but he's dealing with matters close to his heart, and his emotions are close to the surface, welling up, seemingly unbidden, to inform his story. And he has an unerring sense of the sounds of the deaf, the few words they have learned without having ever heard them spoken, and the inarticulate sounds they resort to when words fail them. These become vital ingredients in his vivid characterization of his parents. His gallery of characters is small, but they are richly realized.
Presented by and at the Bootleg Theater, 2220 Beverly Blvd., L.A. Aug. 27–Sept. 19. Thu.–Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 3 p.m. (213) 389-3856. www.bootlegtheater.org.