BY TAMAR NEUMANN: I learned a couple of things about myself on Saturday night. First, I don’t really know anything about deaf culture. Second, if there are subtitles I can’t help myself—I must read them!! These two new pieces of information were discovered when I attended Park Square Theatre’s production of Love Person. It’s their newest production on the Proscenium Stage. For those of you familiar with your Twin Cities theatre history, this particular play has been staged here before. It received its world premiere at Mixed Blood Theatre in 2008 and, after eight long years of productions, acclaim and buzz, it has returned home.
Love Person is a play about love told through three different languages—Sanskrit, American Sign Language and English. It truly is a bilingual play (there are three languages but Sanskrit is not used enough to constitute this as a multilingual play). Because of the interplay between languages, the four characters end up pitted against each other based on each of their understanding of language. The actual story is fairly simple; there is a girl in love, a bit of a mix up, some wonderment about possible resolutions, and then a fairly satisfactory ending. So while the story may not make this play stand out, conceptually, this play shines.
As I stated earlier, the play is bilingual and conceptually that is quite a task. This production manages to succeed on that level. Each of the actors is strong in their respective area. Canae Weiss plays Free, a deaf woman who lives with Maggie, played by Erin Ander Gardner. Weiss does a respectable job portraying a character who is frustrated with her current situation and lashes out at all the wrong people for all the wrong reasons. Gardner interprets much of the show as she also performs her leading role of Maggie. It is a monumental task and she does it successfully. The two women, while not entirely believable as lovers, are believable in the world they inhabit. Their problems are our problems and their loneliness and frustrations are portrayed well enough to elicit understanding and sympathy from the audience. The other two lovers, Vic and Ram (played by Elizabeth Efteland and Imran Sheikh) are slightly more convincing but perhaps only because we see them less onstage.
The strongest love affair onstage exists between Free and Ram, and it’s less because the two actors are connected and more because their affair exists in language. Their entire affair takes place on the black walls above the stage as the audience reads the email exchanges between the two actors. In some ways this visual staging makes the play feel almost like you’re reading a good book, rather than watching a performance. Both actors do an admirable job portraying the anxiety we have all felt as we await an email, text, or instant message from someone who intrigues us. These moments are the best in the play both because the language is so poignant and because Weiss and Sheikh manage to mirror our own feeble attempts at romance and language.
The exchange between Free and Ram is really what the heart of this play is about. The play chooses to look at language in a way that many people don’t spend conscious time thinking about. There are conversations about translations and the meanings of words. There is a deep philosophical question at the heart of this play; a question that is all too familiar in the halls of linguistic and English departments. Can we really understand something (or someone) if the only representation we have is a translation?
I don’t have the answer and this play doesn’t really either, but it makes an attempt to find the answer. Perhaps the closest it gets to solving this problem comes at the very end as both Free and Ram realize the power of their own words. Their realization is startlingly, but, ultimately, most of us will recognize it as true.
Love Person. Written and directed by Aditi Brennan Kapill. March 18-April 10, 2016. Park Square Theatre, Historic Hamm Building Administration Office, 408 St Peter St, St Paul, MN 55102. Tickets: Starting at $24; purchase tickets at parksquaretheatre.org