Fill Our Mouths, by Miamian and soon-to-be Yale playwriting grad Lauren Feldman, is a drama with a multifaceted identity.
It is a play about two women, one a lesbian who works at a famous Paris cafe and the other a writer with a husband, who fall in love. It is also a play about deaf and hard-of-hearing people, about the political and personal issues involved in communication. Above all, it is a humor-kissed tale about the search for self and the longing for connection.
Now getting its world premiere at New Theatre, Feldman’s play is an ambitious piece, both for its creator and the company. Though no one in the cast is deaf or hard of hearing, all had to learn enough American Sign Language to pull off a work that clearly tells its story through words and signing (the 1 p.m. Feb. 3 show will be ASL-interpreted).
Amid panels of clouds and sunsets that set designer Rob Eastman-Mullins uses to evoke romantic Paris as well as the characters’ emotional storms, the actors rise to the storytelling challenge. Director Gail Garrisan has helped them find the strength and balletic grace, both physically and emotionally, that Fill Our Mouths demands.
In cinematically short scenes marked by language that ranges from poetic to sexually explicit, the characters explore the terrain between love and conflict, self-confidence and vulnerability, with actress Caroline Edelen conveying the meaning of signed conversation at key moments.
There is a problem, however, one due equally to the writing and this production. Though the play focuses on the love affair between Evan (Katherine Michelle Tanner), an American visiting Paris with her composer husband (Brandon Morris), and Chap (Lela Elam), an expatriate whose deaf partner Ana (Kim Ehly) also works at the cafe, Feldman simply doesn’t make Chap’s attraction to Evan compelling and credible.
Elam’s layered, alluring, impressive performance as a woman who refuses to be defined by any sort of label simply overpowers Tanner’s dithery, motor-mouthed Evan. That imbalance blunts the play’s emotional potential.