Written by Aditi Brennan Kapil, Directed by M. Bevin O'Gara; Set Design, Dahlia Al-Habieli; Sound Design, Jason E. Weber; Lighting Design, Annie Wiegand; Costume Design, Miranda Kau Giurleo; Properties Design, Alexandra Herryman; Projection Design, Amelia Gossett; Production Stage Manager, Erin Carlson
CAST: Sabrina Dennison, Free; Scarlett Redmond, Vic; Nael Nacer, Ram; Jacqueline Emmart, Maggie
Performances through June 23 by Company One at Boston Center for the Arts, Plaza Theatre, 527 Tremont Street, Boston, MA; Box Office 617-933-8600 or www.companyone.org
Texting by someone seated near you in a darkened theater is odious and distracting, but its use onstage serves as connective tissue and a great equalizer between the hearing and Deaf characters, as well as members of the audience, in Love Person, playwright Aditi Brennan Kapil's multilingual love story having its Boston premiere by Company One in the Plaza Theatre at the Boston Center for the Arts. Showing conversations on three plasma screens situated above the set enables everyone to follow the dialogue whether it is being conveyed in English, Sanskrit, American Sign Language, or email. It is a brilliant use of technology that is at once inclusive and engaging.
Those last two adjectives also aptly describe Love Person, a play with little action which focuses on and gives special significance to language, facial expressions, and the complications that sometimes develop in relationships when we're not paying enough attention. Kapil's script does everything possible to engage the audience and make us pay attention to the interwoven journeys of her four characters, our hopes rising with their hopes and being dashed when things don't go as expected. Although Vic, Ram, Free, and Maggie all have their flaws and are not always likeable, their authenticity and willingness to stay in the game makes us root for them and be invested in the outcome.
Unlucky-in-love Vic (Scarlett Redmond) and Ram (Nael Nacer), a Sanskrit professor visiting from Boston University, meet at a club and have a whirlwind romance. Vic's Deaf sister Free (Sabrina Dennison), who lives with her hearing partner Maggie (Jacqueline Emmart), is skeptical about their prospects once Ram leaves town and jabs him in an email that he mistakenly thinks is sent by Vic. Intrigued by the back and forth word play, Ram's interest in Vic is stirred and their romance heats up. She just thinks she's managed to hook a nice guy by dumb luck. Meanwhile, Free and Maggie have been growing apart as the latter's involvement in the hearing world leaves Free feeling lonely and isolated. Her smart phone is her closest companion and her link to Ram, but she has to deal with her three-pronged guilt over misleading him, interfering in Vic's affairs, and being uncommunicative with Maggie.
The cast works well together as an ensemble and the performances of all four are authentic. Redmond and Dennison bear no physical resemblance to each other, but they click as sisters with the raw emotions they trigger in their scenes together. Perhaps because she is non-verbal, Dennison is compelling to watch, but she also has a galaxy of facial expressions that reward our rapt attention. She and Emmart make the struggle between love and angst in their relationship palpable, and Emmart nails Maggie's confusion and feelings of ambivalence. Redmond's Vic is rough around The Edges, but she always lets us see the underlying vulnerability and insecurity. Adding to his résumé of varied roles in the past twelve months, Nacer creates another memorable character as the emotionally frozen Ram, whose feelings are released by his cerebral connection with Free.
Director M. Bevin O'Gara does an amazing job with the challenges inherent in staging Kapil's play. For example, her blocking takes into consideration the need for Dennison's and Emmart's hands to be visible at all times when they are signing, and it helps that the area of the stage serving as their bedroom is elevated and well-lit. O'Gara shows respect for each of the four languages and strives to represent their unique qualities, and each of the actors communicates in at least two dialects. When her character is not involved in a scene involving spoken words, Emmart stands off to the side interpreting in ASL; likewise, when Maggie and Free are signing, their conversation is translated onscreen. Amelia Gossett's projection design is vital to the continuity of the story and the audience's ability to comprehend.