Emily White ’16 / Emertainment Monthly Staff Writer
Everyone knows the old adage: “man cannot live by bread alone.”
Never before could one fully grasp what that phrase conveyed before the Israeli Nalaga’at deaf-blind Theater Ensemble’s performance of Not By Bread Alone. Through a series of theatrically presented personal vignettes and dream enactments, a hearing/seeing audience got to appreciate all of the things that we take for granted in our everyday lives that make up everything but the bread (literal and figurative) that humans live on.
The show opens with the actors introducing themselves as they sit together at the same long table kneading dough. Throughout the course of this show, this dough is put into an oven onstage and bakes in real time, and by the end of the show, it actually comes out of the oven and is presented to the audience to eat. The delicious smell permeates throughout the show, a constant reminder of the only one of our five senses that the entire cast shares with the entire audience. It is a strange, sad, and shockingly brilliant reminder throughout the show of how different the lives of the actors onstage, all actually deaf and blind, must be to audience members. While the actors do reveal their suffering and vulnerabilities related to their disabilities, they also show off their lively spirits and the hopeful sides of their hearts.
Communication to the audience is done in a myriad of ways, due to not only the nature of deaf-blind communication but also due to its being performed entirely in Hebrew and then translated into English. Some actors speak verbally, while others use sign language – but not American Sign Language – rather a mix of Hebrew and Russian Sign Language. There are subtitles in English throughout the show as well as seeing-hearing speakers/sign language interpreters that both translate for the actors throughout the show and assist them in moving through transitions. It was disappointing, however, to find that there was no American Sign Language interpreter for the show, especially given the number of deaf audience members in attendance.
This was mainly an issue of short notice and translation from Hebrew/Russian Sign Language and words to English/ASL, but it seemed to be an important lacking point. The number of different modes of communication was at many times helpful, given the nature of the actors’ varying methods of communication. However, overall, it seemed to distract from the beautiful and visceral language of physicality of the actors onstage. It was difficult to switch one’s focus between the sign language/speaking interpreter, English supertitles, the Hebrew and Russian speaking voices of the actors, and the actors themselves. It was difficult to keep up with the show while also paying attention to the supertitles. In all honesty, the expressive language of the actors would have been enough in most cases.
That being said, the ensemble undertook an incredible and eye-opening journey in presenting this show to audiences. It was so moving to see for the first time a language of touch, the only way of communication all the actors shared in common. Actors spoke to each other as they do in real life, by holding the hands of another while he or she signs with his or her hands. The nature of this communication makes it impossible and isolating for them to be anywhere but in the same room as each other, engaging in face-to-face contact, which was a refreshing thought for our uber-digitally motivated communication in today’s society. iPhones and Facebook are useless for these people, who dream of the simple pleasure of buying groceries at the supermarket on their own, or simply walking down the street without a companion beside them.
In a way, the realization of their isolation and our daily flippancy made the sharing of the bread at the end bittersweet. Taste, touch, and smell – all the actions required of eating food – are all these people can equally identify with seeing-hearing people. And while they all acted out their dreams onstage, it felt in some ways unfair that the knowledge of these stories was that they would never get to live them out. We see the actors onstage go to the movies, walk alone down the street, see a son home from war, and get a new hairstyle, but they are merely performing these actions for us. It was beautiful to watch how much the performers enjoyed doing so, but at the same time made me feel uncomfortable knowing it could never be their reality. I wanted to see what a day would be like for them outside of their dream world too. Or perhaps experience for myself the “silence and darkness” they spoke of throughout the show.
All things considered, this ensemble presented the audience with a world often left unseen, and did so in a theatrically unique and beautiful way. It got audiences thinking much more carefully about the beauty of their everyday lives and much more engaged in respect for the deaf, blind, and deaf-blind communities. The actions these actors took onstage were incredible feats of bravery, both emotional and physical, and regardless of sight and sound, audiences could taste their beautiful energy and hopeful souls with every breath in the performance, just like the taste of the bread they made.