Regional Reviews: Washington, D.C.
Open Circle Theatre describes its mission as "to advance the idea that disability can enhance the artistic experience, inspire aesthetic innovation, and influence a community to become accessible for all." After a five-year hiatus, Open Circle returns to the stage in Silver Spring, Maryland, with a production of The Who's Tommy that takes flight whenever Russell Harvard appears in the title role.
In the book of the 1993 musical by Pete Townshend (also music and lyrics) and Des McAnuff, based on The Who's concept album, Tommy becomes psychosomatically deaf, blind and mute at age 4 following a traumatic incident, then undergoes abuse from numerous people until he discovers his preternatural skill playing pinball. His breakthrough involves a return of his senses but, as director Suzanne Richard says in her program notes, "What would happen if, when Tommy turns around to speak for the first time, it's in American Sign Language?"
Harvard, a deaf actor with Broadway, film and television credits, has a great presence; while he spends much of the time standing silently, he manages to convey so much through his facial expressions and his sense of concentrationand when he begins communicating in ASL, he's energized and thrilling to watch. Will Hayes, a slim straw-blond man who resembles Harvard, speaks and sings for Tommy while echoing his physical behavior.
The other impressive performers are Carl Williams and Aarron Loggins, playing mirror images of sadistic Cousin Kevin, and Maggie Leigh Walker as a galvanic Acid Queen. Autumn Seavey Hicks is heartbreaking as Tommy's mother, and Mikey Cafarelli conveys the creepiness of Uncle Ernie in his very posture. Conductor and pianist Jake Null ably leads five other musicians from a bandstand above the acting area.
Where the production founders is in its vague sense of time and place. The Broadway production set the action in the period from the Second World War to the 1960s, mostly in London. This version seems to start in the era of Rosie the Riveter, but Arnulfo Moreno's overwhelming projections speed through civil rights marches, psychedelic designs, Vietnam protests, and the 9/11 attacks, and Captain Walker (Malcolm Lee) is taken prisoner by Islamic extremists rather than Nazis, making the "We won the war" reference a little odd. Also, the language still has its British overtones (most obviously, references to English money) although the characters are now American.
Open Circle Theatre