“In the telling, women take their power back,” writes Eve Ensler in her introduction to A Memory, a Monologue, a Rant and a Prayer. The anthology of poetry and prose on the topic of violence against women, co-edited by Ensler with Mollie Doyle in 2007, is the basis for the theatrical production of the same title at the Center for Performing Arts at Rhinebeck on Friday and Saturday, February 26 and 27 at 8 p.m. and Sunday, February 28 at 3 p.m.
Admission is by donation, with half of all proceeds benefiting Grace Smith House, Inc., the Poughkeepsie-based nonprofit that has provided shelter, advocacy and counseling to victims of domestic abuse since the 1970s. The presentation of A Memory, a Monologue, a Rant and a Prayer marks International Women’s Day on March 8 and the now-annual V-Day events held worldwide on Valentine’s Day to protest against relationship violence.
The production, directed by Tracy Carney with choreography by Leighann Kowalsky, involves a series of staged readings written and performed by men and women. The cast includes Jennifer Delora, a deaf actor who will not only speak and sign her monologue, “Conversations with my Son” by Susan Miller, but also remain on stage throughout the readings to sign the performances of the other actors.
“After being cast in the show, I asked the director if I might be able to sign and speak my monologue,” says Delora, who was not born deaf, but gradually lost her hearing from the age of five. “She was very enthusiastic about the idea, since we are all bringing so much of ourselves into each piece. After further discussion, we decided that I would sign all of [the monologues] to create a first-time, inclusive performance for all three shows.”
Delora will have access to the script onstage, but is memorizing all of the monologues and corresponding translations because her body language cannot be blocked by a podium for the signing to be fully visible. Signing the monologues onstage – rather than interpreting them stageside, as is the usual case when American Sign Language (ASL) is utilized for a performance – means that members of the audience who are deaf will be able to experience the entire show in this way alongside hearing audiences without having to take their eyes off the action.
And that may ultimately mean more than just inclusion to some (as valuable as that alone is). A number of studies from reputable researchers have indicated that deaf and hard-of-hearing individuals are at an increased risk of being victims of relationship violence. The reasons for this include the lack of an interpreter when law enforcement is called in, where the abused person may not be able to communicate fully to police while the abuser manipulates the situation. The abusive partner may take away the deaf individual’s communication devices, or intimidate him or her through exaggerated gestures. And abusers may not tell victims when people call on the phone or try to intervene, to make them believe that they have fewer options.
Delora herself is a survivor of what she terms “deaf-on-deaf violence,” with a full spinal fusion as a result of the abuse. “The subject matter is of great personal importance to me,” she says, “and I felt it was of the utmost importance to provide access to this subject matter to all audiences. I hope other theater companies take note and realize it isn’t that hard to include ASL within a production and provide equal access for all.”
A native of the Hudson Valley, Delora pursued a film career in Los Angeles for a time, where she established a deaf-run theater company and hosted a talk show called Deaf Perspectives. A member of the American Board of Disability Analysts, Dr. Delora has taught ASL for more than 25 years, most recently at the Town of Esopus Library. Delora interpreted the Kingston mayoral debate recently and would like to help establish communication access for the deaf in all political, entertainment and community forums in the area. “One of my dreams is to work with UPAC or Bethel Woods to provide them with the opportunity to include deaf audiences at their events,” she says. “Deaf people like concerts and comedy as much as the next guy!”
A Memory, a Monologue, a Rant & a Prayer, Friday/Saturday, February 26/27, 8 p.m., Sunday, February 28, 3 p.m., by donation, Center for Performing Arts at Rhinebeck, 661 Route 308, Rhinebeck; (845) 876-3080, www.centerforperformingarts.org.