World premiere love story ‘Arrival & Departure’ features Deaf and hearing actors. (Inspired by “The Most Romantic Film Ever Made”)
Everyone has their most-cherished romantic movie. Even the professionals who make movies. When Time Out London recently polled 101 motion picture experts to select the 100 Best Romantic Films of all time, the panel voted the 1945 classic film Brief Encounter as #1, declaring it “the most romantic film ever made.” They’re not the only ones who think so. The Film Society of Lincoln Center named it “one of the most achingly romantic films ever made.”
What makes Brief Encounter so beloved and unforgettable? Have you seen it?
Directed by David Lean with a screenplay by Noël Coward and starring Celia Johnson and Trevor Howard, Brief Encounter is a passionate film about a chance meeting, forbidden love, and finding one’s soul mate.
Now, seventy-three years after the release of the romantic masterpiece, Fountain Co-Artistic Director Stephen Sachs has been awarded exclusive permission by the Noel Coward Estate to transform the film Brief Encounter into his innovative new play, Arrival & Departure.
In Sachs’ new theatrical spin, Arrival & Departure, a Deaf man and a hard-of-hearing woman, two married strangers, meet accidentally in a New York City subway station. As their casual friendship develops into something deeper, each is forced to confront how their simmering relationship could forever change their lives and the lives of those they love.
Performed on a highly creative set designed by Matthew G. Hill, who maximizes the limited space by creating a Dunkin’ Donuts coffee shop nestled in a New York City subway station, which easily morphs into the living room, bedroom or kitchen of Emily (Deanne Bray) and her husband Doug (Brian Robert Burns). How, might you ask, could this be accomplished without moving set pieces around? Well, here’s where the influence of the iconic film comes into play (no pun intended). Superbly envisioned by director Sachs, Nicholas E. Santiago’s video design masterfully creates the different settings – including train stations, speeding trains, and crowds of people frenetically rushing about the city streets, which Sachs emulates on stage with rapid, rushed movement patterns executed by the cast. You are watching a film representing the different settings which then segues into live action utilizing both oral and American Sign Language, (ASL) including open captioning to accommodate both Deaf and hearing audiences.
The story begins at home of Emily and Doug and their daughter Jule, (adorable Aurelia Myers) who is in the throes of 13-year-old angst. Her mom is surprised at her unhappiness with Jule’s friend, (Claire Elizabeth Beale). “I thought you were best friends?” “I don’t even like her.” This young lady has become smitten with a boy she met on the online “Crush Zone” and is desperately trying to convince her parents that she should be allowed to meet him. As if being desperate to date wasn’t enough, the poor kid has an experience that plunges her deeper into the decision that no one will ever love her.
Emily, who is hard of hearing, has learned ASL. She wants to be a good wife and is trying to please her religious husband by agreeing to being baptized and devoting her life to Jesus Christ. Her “voice,” when she signs, is effectively spoken by Stasha Surdyke, who captures the nuances of Emily’s conflicted character. She is unhappy that her husband never learned ASL so that she can more comfortably communicate with him. Beneath the devoted wife/mother exterior, we sense a growing anxiety and Bray’s performance is truly riveting as she captures the conflicted multi-layers of her character.
The initial encounter begins at the 59TH Street subway station when a speck flies into Emily’s eye. She needs a napkin and goes into Dunkin’ Donuts, run by Mya, a tough food service worker who does not brook fools easily. Jessica Jade Andres gives a wonderful performance as this no-nonsense New Yorker who is being wooed by transit cop Russell, an endearing character playfully brought to life by Shon Fuller. It is here that Emily meets Sam, magically played by Troy Kotsur, Bray’s real-life Deaf husband. Sam’s signed dialogue is voiced through Adam Burch, who also captures the deep emotions of his non-speaking counterpart.
Sam, a filmmaker who teaches Deaf students the art of film making, is gallant and removes the speck from this pretty young woman’s eye, thus inaugurating a slowly evolving warm, loving but sub rosa relationship. They begin to meet on Thursdays at Central Park, the setting crisply brought to life by the authentic video of the park being flashed in the background. He too, is married and has two sons but the attraction is too powerful for them to stop seeing each other. In one particularly endearing moment, Sam, with a delightfully active inner child, convinces Emily to remove her shoes and take a dip in the lake, which is so realistically presented that as an audience member you would love to join them. How does this liaison end? Will Emily’s family issues be resolved? Will the terribly insecure daughter develop any confidence? Will Emily’s husband learn ASL? What happens to Sam and his family?….
The unique play is performed simultaneously in spoken English and American Sign Language with additional use of open captioning, so that both Deaf and hearing audiences can enjoy the production. Proving that whether it’s a movie transformed into a stage play, a screenplay adapted into a theater script, or spoken English translated into American Sign Language, in matters of the heart, love is a universal language.
The inspiration, “Brief Encounter”, is a classic romantic drama set in 1945 during WWII in and around a London railway station. A married woman, with children, Laura (Celia Johnson), meets a stranger, a doctor (Trevor Howard) named Alec in the train station’s tea room, who kindly removes a piece of grit from her eye then leaves to catch his train. During her subsequent shopping trips every Thursday, Laura bumps into Alec and a friendship develops. Soon, the weekly meetings become an arranged rendezvous. Finally, they confess that they are deeply, overwhelmingly in love.
With its evocatively fog-enshrouded setting, swooning Rachmaninoff score, and pair of remarkable performances (Johnson was nominated for an Oscar), the film explores the thrill, pain, and tenderness of an illicit romance, and has influenced many a cinematic brief encounter since its release.
The screenplay was adapted and based on playwright Noel Coward’s 1935 short one-act (half-hour) stage play Still Life. It was expanded from five short scenes in a train station to include action in other settings (Laura’s house, the apartment of the married man’s friend, restaurants, parks, train compartments, shops, a car, a boating lake and at the cinema).
To watch David Lean’s classic romantic film, Brief Encounter, click here:
To experience Stephen Sachs’ funny and heart-rending stage adaptation, Arrival & Departure, come to the Fountain Theatre.
For both, bring a box of tissues and someone you love.
Source: Intimate Excellent, (the Fountain Theatre blog) and Beverly Cohn, Renowned Special Contributor to LAWestMedia.com
Image credit: Ed Krieger
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