The Nalaga’at Deaf-Blind Theatre Ensemble’s NOT BY BREAD ALONE (@ Paramount Theatre thru April 6th) allows us, on the outside, a privileged look into a world we can only “assume” about. We assume that permanent silence is bleak, empty, perhaps white noise—when it’s actually extremely loud. The company plays an audio simulation for us and it’s not at all benign: We’re quite uncomfortable, stressed by the incessant scratchy sound in a matter of seconds. Even our thoughts about blindness are altered. We may think that blindness would make a person tentative, hesitant, and wary of dangerous obstacles but the Israeli performers bravely dance, walk and run fearlessly around the stage.
Some of the performers are blind. Some are deaf and many are both. Vibrations from large drums give them cues for scenes, as well as Israeli sign language and Russian sign language (which is translated into touch signing for many of the actors). Seeing and hearing signers at the side of the stage translate for us and for some of the actors with minimal vision. Setters help some performers hit their marks.
The performance piece opens with all eleven company members seated at a long table. They’re kneading dough into tiny loaves which will be baked while we watch scenes revealing their dreams and ambitions. The title is both metaphor and germ of the piece. These eleven people do not live just to survive. They live to laugh, dance and love, just like us. One of the loveliest parts of the performance (so difficult to pick, so many beautiful vignettes) is each’s chosen recipient for the bread: “I would feed it to orphans” or “I would feed it to a poor, tired old man” or “I would feed it to birds.” At the end of the show, they feed us.
The performance was created by Nagala’at founder Adina Tal and effusively narrated by Itshak Hanina, who is often found stage left at a Braille typewriter. (In addition to his acting, he writes poetry.) A couple of deft vaudevillians, Mark Yaroski (who pays homage to his idol, Charlie Chaplin) and Igor Osherov (a chess champ in his other life) clown around like Laurel and Hardy, with Yaroski madly darting around Osherov to confound him and delight us. Evgenia Shtesky gets to portray a bride in one fantasy and she plays a familiar Russian melody at the piano. Rafael Akoa’s dream is to visit Italy and so he does in NOT BY BREAD ALONE.