In November, the University of Findlay Theatre Program will present “Mother Hicks,” an evocative tale told through poetry and sign language. This inspiring folkloric story by Suzan Zeder is about three Depression-era outsiders: Girl, an orphan who is passed from home to home; Tuc, a young Deaf man whose perceived weakness is one of his greatest strengths; and Mother Hicks, a midwife whose unconventional methods have fearful townspeople believing her to be a witch.
This powerful play, written for multigenerational audiences, illustrates our collective journey through life in search of belonging. The production will feature a hard-of-hearing student, Alyssa Plack, playing Deaf character Tuc, and theater in the round seating.
Show dates will be Nov. 8, 9 and 10 at 7:30 p.m.; and Nov. 11 at 2 p.m. at Marathon Center for the Performing Arts. Tickets are $6 for community members, and can be purchased at the Marathon Center for the Performing Arts box office at 200 W. Main Cross St., online at www.marathoncenterarts.org; or by calling 419-423-2787. Admission will be free for UF students, faculty and staff who reserve tickets by calling the box office using extension 109, or emailing RBish@mcpa.org.
Along with Plack portraying Tuc, senior Becca Kowalski will play Mother Hicks, and Girl will be played by India Miller.
The play will be performed in the Marathon Center for the Performing Art’s Roy and Marcia Armes Hall, which allows for a theatre in the round setting that seats the audience on four sides of the stage. Also called arena staging, it has a contemporary feel, but actually dates back to the origins of theatre storytelling.
“Theatre in the round invites the audience to be a part of the world of the play and feel very close to the action,” and “Mother Hicks,” a recipient of American Alliance for Theatre and Education’s Distinguished Play Award, lends itself well to this experience, explained Director Meriah Sage.
“Of all the scripts we read that leant themselves to theatre in the round, we selected this one because of the real characters, themes of finding one’s self and one’s place in the world, and connection to American Sign Language (ASL),” Sage continued. “Tuc, a young Deaf man, is the main storyteller in the show, and uses ASL to share his story with the audience. Chorus members from the cast interpret his words into English for hearing audience members who don’t know ASL.”
The Theatre Program is collaborating with ASL faculty members Leah Brant and Kyle Parke, who have been instrumental in helping produce “Mother Hicks,” Sage said.
Parke, who is deaf, said those involved with the production have a “high level of commitment to portraying culturally accurate dynamics.” For instance, the actors learned contextual information about how society treated deaf people during the 1930s.
“When I first read the play, I was very surprised that it takes the time to explain the character of Tuc, and how the character of Mother Hicks came to know him, as well as interact with him,” said Parke. “There’s a scene that is incredibly insightful where Mother Hicks explains to someone else how Tuc talks, exclaiming that people were ‘just too ignorant to understand’ that Tuc can talk to them with his hands.”
Parke thinks audience members will enjoy the interaction between Tuc and Girl as Girl begins to learn the language Tuc speaks. “While the audience won’t initially understand WHAT it is that Tuc is saying, they will see that he is starting to attempt to develop a larger social circle outside of only being able to communicate with Mother Hicks,” Park said.
“It’s my hope that this play sheds light on the fact that for centuries, Deaf people were often misunderstood and thought to be ‘dumb’ because they didn’t communicate the same way as their hearing peers did,” Parke continued. “Quite often, in many cases, Deaf people were misdiagnosed as mentally impaired and put into institutions for ‘treatment’ that they didn’t need, all because no one bothered to determine whether they can hear or not,” he said.
Parke added he has taken part in other theatrical performances, both as a performer and as a director, but that his involvement with UF’s “Mother Hicks” production “has been an absolute joy.”
“Not only have I had the opportunity to employ my use of American Sign Language, but I was also presented with the rare opportunity to share the cultural knowledge of how the Deaf community is and was perceived by a hearing majority during one of the most challenging times in this country,” Parke emphasized. This play, he hopes, will be a learning experience for actors and audience members, and a reminder of how Deaf people today might still be struggling in today’s world.
Complimenting the play will be a Nov. 16 lecture on deaf culture.
UF’s staging of “Mother Hicks” is produced by special arrangement with Dramatic Publishing, Inc., Woodstock, Illinois.
Cast and crew members include:
Mother Hicks – Becca Kowalski
Girl – India Miller
Tuc – Alyssa Plack
Chorus – Nicole Abke, Jonda Krontz and Robbie Riffle
Jake – Ryan Blake Bush
Howie – Destiny DeWar
Clovis – Bo Terrill
Izzy Ricks – Riley Klauza
Ricky Ricks – Jack Yeater
Alma Ward – Abigail Starcher
Hosiah Ward – Andrew Peatee
Wilson Walker – Lisa Martinez
Stage Manager – Rebekah White
Assistant Stage Managers – Cody Watson and Sara O’Bryan
ASL Assistant Director – Mykayla Ruffing
Dramaturg – Leah Chizmar
Education Team – Leah Chizmar, Amber King, Mykayla Ruffing, Aurna Sadia
Study Guide Editor – Paul Beaver
ASL Consultants – Leah Brant and Kyle Parke
Director – Meriah Sage
Set Designer – Kristin Ellert
Costume Designer – Kathy Newell
Lighting and Sound Designer – Carl Walling
Props Designer – Jessica Leszkowicz
Technical Director – Matthew Stimmel