“I just call it normal.” Thus begins writer/performer Mark Murray in this solo show as he describes the pitfalls and angst of being a hearing child growing up with parents who are both deaf.
As a young boy he thinks all kids have deaf parents. But as he grows older he realizes he is the only one, and his sense of what is “normal” comes into question. He sees and hears other kids making fun of his mother and father, and he becomes defensive and protective of them.
But he finds that his toughest struggle lies in what he feels is his inability to communicate with his own mom and dad. As an only child this leads to a loneliness of not being able to be heard.
His mother, who is also progressively sight impaired, is often away at work and only rarely speaks to Murray directly, preferring to communicate with him through her husband using sign language.
Murray has more of a relationship with his father but feels that their conversations only scratch the surface (“How was school today?”) rather than digging deeper in a way that allows him to understand who his father is and vice versa.
While this perceived distance between parent and teenager is perhaps common to many if not most adolescents, it takes on an added obstacle when Murray realizes that he will never really know what it’s like to be deaf. He and his father will never hear each other in the same way.
The show’s most poignant moments are when Murray sees different sides of his parents such as watching his mother tell some surprising old stories and learning what his father went through as the only deaf child among 12 siblings.
CODA is not without its humorous moments. Several of Murray’s short tales involve unexpectedly funny interactions between the deaf and hearing worlds, such as when his father teaches him how to get out of a speeding ticket by playing with a bumbling cop’s inability to know how to converse with a deaf person.
CODA is not particularly theatrical and does not contain a lot of dramatic momentum from recollection to recollection. But its quiet storytelling is interesting as it explores a young man’s struggles to feel “normal,” both in his own world and the world of his parents that he can never fully enter.
The performances of this show, as one might expect, use sign language interpreters, though patrons interested in seeing them might want to sit near the front of MOTR Pub’s narrow basement performance space.
Joe McDonough is a Cincinnati playwright whose plays have been staged locally and around the country.
Read the official 32-page FRINGE FESTIVAL GUIDE here and find the full performance lineup here.