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See This: Love Person at Victory Gardens

By Julienne Bilker in Arts & Entertainment on Jun 1, 2009 5:40PM

photo of Rajesh Bose as Ram and Liz Tannebaum as Free by Liz Lauren
Thinking about Love Person, a story told in English, American Sign Language (ASL), Sanskrit and projected emails, instant messages and supertitles, we were more than skeptical. At best, it sounded overly ambitious. At worse, it sounded like a hot mess. We never would have guessed it would be one of our most exciting and gratifying theatrical experiences in recent memory.

Free (Liz Tannebaum) and Vic (Cheryl Graeff) are sisters. Free, the only deaf person in the play, is in a relationship with Maggie (Arlene Malinowski). At the top of the show, Vic has just met Ram (Rajesh Bose), a visiting Sanskrit professor. When Ram leaves, he does not call Vic as he said he would, so Free sends him an angry email. Ram mistakes her for her sister, but Free does not correct him, and their online dialogue continues. The several relationships in the show build, fall apart and rebuild in a kind of dance, making the show less about the relationships themselves and more about the communication involved in them. Not knowing much about Sanskrit or ASL, we didn’t realize how conceptually similar they are - both are considered to be very direct and simple. For example, the title of the play comes from the sign for the word “lover” - the sign for “love” + the sign for the word “person.”

Rather than adding to the complexity of this story, the show’s many projections are used to interpret for everyone. There are supertitles both when scenes are solely in ASL and when they are solely in spoken English. In addition to providing translation, some projections are also part of the performance - when Ram and Free message each other, the communication is displayed as it is happening. It’s refreshing to see emails and texts being typed rather than hearing an actor read aloud what s/he is writing, and fascinating to realize how that difference changes the way we absorb the information presented.

It all sounds complicated, but the playwright says that is why “theatre is the ideal medium” through which to tell this story. Jeff Bauer’s beehive-like set allows all four characters to be seen equally as easily while each being in his/her own environment, and also provides multiple canvases for Mike Tutaj’s projections. The projections do require your eye to move around relatively quickly, which may not be a big deal for those of us accustomed to gchatting, watching TV and blogging at the same time, but we spoke to one woman at intermission who felt she was “missing something” every time she had to divert her eye from the action to the text. We didn’t find the switch any more distracting than watching a foreign film with subtitles, but (with all due respect) it will probably be a common complaint for older/less technologically savvy audience members.

Admittedly our enthusiasm for this play mostly derives from the unique way it addresses communication issues, but it is also a funny and touching script dexterously performed by a heartfelt ensemble. Unfortunately, it’s only scheduled to run for two more weeks, so grab your tickets now.

Love Person, thru June 14 at the Victory Gardens Biograph Theater, 2433 N. Lincoln Ave. Tickets $20-$48, 773-871-3000. Love Person is a bilingual show in ASL and English, meaning all performances are accessible to anyone fluent in ASL.