It’s hard to believe but Mark Medoff’s “Children of a Lesser God” is 36 years old. When the late Phyllis Frelich and John Rubinstein opened the play in 1982, it wasn’t common or normal to see a deaf person featured on Broadway. Frelich and the play caused a sensation. The same happened when Marlee Matlin and William Hurt starred in the movie four years later. Matlin won an Oscar and a Golden Globe. Hurt and Piper Laurie also earned Oscar noms.
Last night, Joshua Jackson made his Broadway debut in “Children of a Lesser God,” along with Laura Ridloff, who is deaf, and they were just as good as their antecedents. Jackson– know to so many from “Dawson’s Creek”– turns out to be a fine stage actor. He’s in every scene of this two acter, and has as much dialogue and work to do (he also simultaneously signs) as an actor playing “Hamlet.” Jackson definitely has the stage debut of the year, and Ridloff isn’t far behind him. She makes the Sarah Norman character accessible if not understandable– and I don’t mean in communicating the lines but making the play palatable in 2018.
That’s because what seemed earthshaking in 1982 seems passe in 2018. “Children of a Lesser God” is a little like “Butterflies are Free”– a play of its time and moment. And maybe because Medoff kicked open the door for deaf actors and the rights of hearing impaired people 36 years ago, the issues involved have changed. It’s hard to work up enthusiasm now for Sarah’s outrage and lawsuit. But credit the actors for keeping the debate alive.
Kudos also to “ER” star Anthony Edwards, who took a supporting role this time but could easily be a lead the next time around. We don’t see enough of him!
In the audience: Rosie O’Donnell, looking great, brought friend (just friend, keep calm) Maddie Corman, plus Edie Falco with actor pal Bill Sage, Linda Eder, the great Lea DeLaria, and Phillippa Soo, among others.