Broken Spokes | Performing Arts Review | Chicago Reader

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Broken Spokes

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Broken Spokes, Bailiwick Repertory. Sibling rivalry is a common enough theme, but playwright Willy Conley's exploration of the tumultuous relationship between two brothers places this shopworn scenario in an entirely new light: in his Broken Spokes the brothers' inability to communicate is complicated by their hearing impairment. Jackson, hyperactive and aggressive, wears a hearing aid; Weston, impressionable and withdrawn, is completely deaf.

Broken Spokes isn't the first play to combine sign language, voice interpretation, and speech: Bailiwick has a history of reinventing familiar stories for deaf audiences--indeed, this show comes from the "Deaf Bailiwick Artists" project. But it is one of the first Chicago productions of a work by a deaf playwright. What most distinguishes Broken Spokes is Conley's use of sign-mime, a visual technique that borrows from cinematic devices like angles and close-ups to tell a story from multiple perspectives. This deceptively simple approach is responsible for many of the play's most harrowing moments, including the graphic dramatization of a car crash.

Yet on the whole Broken Spokes is terribly uneven. Like many other emerging playwrights, Conley relies on hasty resolutions and broad metaphors. Still, with stronger pacing and more texture in the characters and tone, Broken Spokes could develop into an impressive work. --Nick Green

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