Godspell, Centerlight Theatre, at the Calo Theatre. This company's Chicago debut production of Godspell is inspiring: Centerlight Theatre, a division of the Center on Deafness in Northbrook, integrates deaf, hearing, and hearing-impaired actors, blending voice and sign language with graceful humor and ease. The ensemble work together in such a connected way that I lost track of which actors were using voice and which were communicating through sign alone. Their intentions are clear, strong, and carried through completely, and their energy level--none of the performers ever leaves the stage--is impressive. Hands and voices mix together so naturally that I left the theater feeling that something would be missing from the play without the expressive signing.
But Godspell itself, which tells the teachings of Jesus through upbeat song and dance numbers, is very much like a Sunday School lesson. And since I'm not a Christian, I found the fire and brimstone about heaven and hell in some of the parables irritating. I wanted to feel swept up in the fervor of redemption, but instead I felt lost and left out, the way I did as a child when church groups came to preach at our public school. I definitely recommend this production as a beautiful way to discover how hearing and nonhearing actors can create a new language; but for those who don't believe in or who take issue with the New Testament, be warned that Godspell's approach to God is not a universal one.
--Gabrielle S. Kaplan