While they communicate with different vocal and sign languages, some can’t speak at all; yet they evoke admiration,by telling and enacting their individual stories, sharing their hopes and dreams, and baking bread on stage. Later, they invite the audience to come on stage, too, break bread and speak with them. That’s the only way some of them know theatergoers are there.
Theatergoers also admired their courage, sense of adventure, and their joy of being on stage. Some performers have sign language interpreters. One man types and shares greetings in Israeli Braille. Others who are totally blind-deaf communicate in “touch” language - by touch. Many at Nalaga’at (translation - please touch) have an inherited disorder, Usher Syndrome, which can create profound deafness, followed by blindness.
So how do they knead dough, bake bread, sing, dance, act, pantomime, perform stunts, narrate, have fast costume changes and perform tasks of typical actors and actresses? Much better than you think. Nalaga’at Center of Tel Aviv founder, president and artistic director Adina Tal, says because they can’t see or hear stage prompts, they respond to drumbeat vibrations.
Standing or sitting in a line at times, the actors convey a message from one to the other, through sign and touch sign, all the way down the line.
Before the show opens, the performers, dressed in chef’s hats and white aprons, busily knead and form breads and rolls, at an oblong table. The stage darkens, and the group, wearing egg-shaped masks covering their faces, is seated there. One by one, they remove their masks, introduce themselves, (aided by the monitor), and briefly relate their stories. They also express their hopes of who will get their bread, from their children, a homeless person, a bird, and more.
In one scene, they twirl umbrellas in unison, slower, faster, then share anecdotal memories,dreams, and quips about rainstorms.
They eloquently express their feelings of profound isolation, whether they were alone or surrounded by hearing-seeing people. Together, they’ve found friendship, warmth and a sense of belonging. When one man wants to walk outside in the rain, three others join him, so he won’t be alone.
Another story is steeped in sadness. A young man named Michael traveled alone from his native Russia to Israel, and eagerly joined the Nalaga’at ensemble. He wanted to be an actor, and enjoyed attending rehearsals. Tragically, he died during rehearsals, at age 26. The troupe dedicated a scene depicting their performance in Italy, to him.
As their co-actors simultaneously re-enact and perform their own shticks, a couple dances dreamily in the center, to a pretty song.
A beaming Itzik, who smiles perpetually, was born blind and became deaf at 11 years old, due to complications from contracting meningitis.
Pretty Bat-sheva, with her long curly hair, dazzling smile, and graceful moves, is enchanting as she swings on a swing, dances and twirls. Her sister, Zipora, who is also deaf and blind, loves being on stage and making people laugh.
Another actor belies his condition, playing the accordion and skitting across the stage at times, acrobatically, performing comedic stunts.
Handsome, young Shmuel, whose long black hair is plaited in a low ponytail, loves to dance, he communicates. Yuriy re-enacts his love of fishing and dreams of being a ship captain at sea, and Mark, who formerly loved seeing movies, performs a comedic Chaplinesque routine.
Genia, daughter of a Russian ballerina and actor-director. walks with a cane and an assistant, but deftly displays her charm and show biz skills. She can speak, and partially hears with hearing aids. Serenely, she sits at a keyboard, playing her favorite Russian tune from her childhood. Later, in her dream of getting married, she and Yuri, (who portrays her suitor and groom), are the center of attention. In the wedding scene, under the chuppah (wedding canopy), the group rejoices in the couple’s happiness. Yuri and his older brother, Igor, (who enjoys clowning around),are delightful to watch. And Shoshana, who can speak, but not see or hear, shines on stage,as do Rafi, the magician, and Rani.
Their declaration of “We live not by bread alone,” has enlivened and enlightened audiences in London, New York, Washington, Cleveland, their home base, Tel Aviv. Although the troupe enjoys meeting people and traveling, one actor quipped to Tal, “Did you have to book our tour here in winter?”
After the show, Genia, aware she was heading home from Boston, to Israel’s warm climes, and the start of Passover, lit up. In her native Russian, she said, “And just think! No baking bread!”