About A Kind of Alaska

Suspended. Silent. Still.

In the early decades of the 20th century, a mysterious disease appeared and cast a spell on its victims. For some, the spell was momentary, others passed away and still others languished for decades in an almost comatose state save for intermittent utterances or movements.

Thirty years after encephalitis lethargica mysteriously appeared a drug developed for Parkinson’s is given to a group of patients, and what seems like a miraculous remission occurs. Patients wake, laugh, speak, become themselves again. But devastatingly, the action of the drug is unreliable, and patients are eventually re-entombed in their own stiffened bodies.

In 1972, Dr. Sacks published his book Awakenings detailing his work with patients suffering from encephalitis lethargica.  Pinter, fascinated by Sacks’s account wrote A Kind of Alaska as an exploration of one patient’s unvoiced thoughts, feelings and awakening.

Join us on April 20th and 21st as we lift the veil from Deborah’s 30 year sleep and observe how she struggles to orient herself, a child in an adult’s body, perplexed, distraught yet filled with wonder.

In this landmark ASL production, we weave three forms of ASL together to draw parallels between the development of ASL as well as the struggle and movement for recognition and ownership of ASL as language in its own right,  in America.

The evening opens with the widely praised voiced staging of the Atlantic Theater Company’s 2010 production directed by Karen Kohlhaas with Lisa Emery, Reed Birney and Rebecca Henderson. (Sign language interpreted by Anna Carter and Jon Wolfe-Nelson)

NY Live Arts/Live Ideas then reveals the premiere of acclaimed experimental filmmaker Bill Morrison’s film Re:Awakenings created from newly discovered footage of Dr. Sacks working with encephalitis lethargica patients and combined with footage from the 1973 Yorkshire Television documentary, all accompanied by a score by Philip Glass.

The evening culminates with WeildWorks version of A Kind of Alaska performed entirely in American Sign Language (no voice interpretation and no captioning) in celebration of Oliver Sacks’ special relationship with the Deaf community and his book Seeing Voices. This historic staging features Deaf actors: Terrylene, Alexandria Wailes, Lewis Merkin and is directed by Kim Weild.

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