Theatre Review: “Love Person” at the Phoenix Theatre

LtoR:  Karen Irwin, Tami Lee Satimyer, Sandeep Pamireddy, Angela Plank - photo by Julie Curry

Last Thursday my friend Adrienne and I met at the Phoenix Theatre downtown for the opening night of “Love Person,” by Aditi Brennan Kapil. 

It is presented here in Indianapolis as a National New Play Network rolling world premiere, shared with the Mixed Blood Theatre in Minneapolis and the Marin Theatre Company in Mill Valley, California.  Bryan Fonseca directed it for the Phoenix.

I bet that every reviewer will want to describe the piece as “textured.”  I call first dibs on the word.

This uniquely textured, double love story is an exquisite celebration of everything that is complex, frustrating, enjoyable, and essential about communication.

For a communication junkie like me, this show is an almost religious experience.

One story is about a tough, eternally optimistic yet self-sabotaging bar hostess named Vic (Karen Irwin) who falls in love with a timid but humorous visiting Sanskrit professor named Ram (Sandeep Pamireddy.)  She throws herself at him.  He goes back to India.

For a while.

In the meantime, Vic’s sister, a diminutive but feisty deaf woman named Free (Tami Lee Santimyer), is in a long-term, committed, love relationship with a gentle English professor named Maggie (Angela Plank.)  Although their relationship seems admirably steady and affectionate at first, gradually we realize that it has somehow gone a bit stale. 

And there is more than one way to be unfaithful.

Each of these four people has his or her native language plus a second one.  Each delivers his or her languages using more than one method. 

The audience gets to experience an intoxicatingly well-blended communication mix that includes native American Sign Language (ASL), sibling ASL, interpreter ASL, Midwestern spoken English, Indian-accented spoken English, spoken Sanskrit, English subtitles, Sanskrit subtitles, emails, and phone conversations.

The communication mix also includes paint-blistering curses and heart-melting poetry.  And kisses.  And slaps.

No language is more important than the others.  None is translated completely or perfectly.  Yet this is satisfying, too, because it is authentic.  Communication is inherently challenging even when two people share the same native language.  Rarely does one “get” the whole meaning of anything, especially at first.  That’s why it is so important to continue trying to understand.

The brilliant sound design, by Tim Brickley, includes loud club music that is hard to hear over (but don’t let this bother you – it is only at the beginning), delicate mood music, and generous spaces of silence in which all of the conversation takes place via gestures and words on screens.

Bryan Fonseca’s witty lighting design includes subtle humor and romance in the form of stars and streetlamps.

Justin Kidwell’s set is intriguing as well.  Over supper after the show, my friend Adrienne and I interpreted its various elements in this way: The characters sit on bumpy silver cubes that bounce light and meaning around like mirrors.  The characters live in homes defined by glass brick, which allows light and meaning to get through but also distorts them.  The patterns painted on the floor evoke molecular structures, computer synapses, and the inherent connectedness of the universe.

The floor also made me want to play jacks.  ‘Not sure what that means.

The visual of the four actors’ contrasting yet complementary physical beauty is incidental to the story but adds another pleasing layer to the piece nonetheless. 

Even the audience adds to the texture of the piece, or at least it did on Thursday night.  Some people whispered to each other but an equal amount signed comments to each other.  Laughs came at different times, too, depending on audience members’ sexual orientation, native language, and/or ethnic background.  Everyone seemed to be enjoying the show.

I wouldn’t call this a sad show, overall, but it resonated with me on so many levels that by the end I was weeping.  It is about communication and about love.  I hope I can make time to see it again. 

In the meantime, I’ve been practicing what I learned about how to say “lover” in ASL.  It is actually two signs: “love” plus “person.”  Verb AND noun. 

Because love is not just what you feel.  It’s what you do.


ASL interpreter Joyce Ellinger happened to sit with Adrienne and me.   She told us during the intermission that the two hearing actresses, Karen Irwin and Angela Plank, had had only three weeks in which to learn their ASL lines.  Neither had much experience with ASL before this play, and yet they both seem comfortable with it now.  Chuck Daube is the ASL Coach/Sign Master for the production.  Edan Evans de Roziere is the cultural liaison to the deaf community.

Raju Chinthala is the Indian consultant.  Caroline Stine is the costumer.  (The clothes are just right!)  Dani Norberg is the stage manager and “light and sound goddess.”  Samantha Cains is the dramaturg.  Scot Greenwell is the literary manager.  David White is the assistant director.

The promotional sponsor for this show is Out Word Bound book store.  2008-2009 season sponsors include the National New Play Network, Webize Interactive Media, Duke Energy, the Christel DeHaan Family Foundation, the Indianapolis Foundation, the Arts Council of Indianapolis and the Indiana Arts Commission.

“Love Person” continues at the Phoenix Theatre on the Frank and Katrina Basile underground stage through Saturday, January 31, 2009.  There are no Sunday performances.  Thursday nights are “cheap seat nights” – tickets are only $15 instead of the usual $25.  To make a reservation, please call 317-635-PLAY or email mstafford at phoenixtheatre dot org.

Hope Baugh –

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