A NOTE FROM THE DIRECTOR
R+J: The Vineyard was the first Chicago production in 15+ years to feature non-Equity d/Deaf actors. The creation process was a pressure cooker with hearing and d/Deaf artists forcing Shakespeare-sized ideas through the hands of a single interpreter. The play’s attempt to present “two households, both alike in dignity” angered d/Deaf and hearing audiences “equally” by excluding them alternately between scenes of English or ASL without the help of captions. The play’s warring sides were also reflected in the rehearsal process, which became a moderated six-month peace negotiation. While rewarding, it was also exhausting and demoralizing to all involved.
For the next project, I vowed to invert the dynamics. Instead of being separated by English and sign, the play would operate inside a universal, visual language. Our story would be about an ideal, rather than a divide. We needed a character with an extreme respect for both languages while worshiping creativity, courage, and love.
Cyrano became that character.
Then, there was the question of cultural appropriation. We would have hearing actors using American Sign Language. Was this to be celebrated or shamed? Was the language for all, or should it be contained? When it came to casting, important discussions were happening throughout the world regarding Deaf roles being cast with #DeafTalent. We attempted to ask one question further: could a play be constructed where all roles were open to all actors regardless of gender or whether they were d/Deaf? We cast and constructed the play to have no requirements beyond ability.
Beyond these external considerations, we must also address the issues inside the play!
Little Red Riding Hood’s French origins in 1617 as penned by Charles Perrault seem to echo a series of sixteenth century Werewolf Trials where men were accused of shape-shifting, killing and devouring young children in the woods. At the end of Perrault’s story, a moral is attached:
“Children, especially attractive, well bred young ladies, should never talk to strangers, for if they should do so, they may well provide dinner for a wolf. I say "wolf," but there are various kinds of wolves. There are also those who are charming, quiet, polite, unassuming, complacent, and sweet, who pursue young women at home and in the streets. And unfortunately, it is these gentle wolves who are the most dangerous ones of all.”
In the 1897 French classic, Cyrano de Bergerac, the plot also centers on the deception of a woman, this time by two men: a gifted wordsmith with an unfortunate nose, and a beautiful body without a creative bone. Far from a villain, Cyrano is presented as an ideal poet/warrior cursed with an external ugliness (his nose) preventing him the "dream of being loved by even an ugly woman." Cyrano uses his dexterity and charm to evade, harass, or defeat nearly every character in the play. With different intentions, Cyrano and the Wolf both view women as things to be lured, pursued, fed, and consumed. Modern day wolves are appearing with regularity. A revolution is occurring and those of us who have fed those wolves will not be granted absolution.
-Aaron Sawyer, writer and director.