The Taste of Sunrise

“The Taste of Sunrise” is produced by BYU’s Young Company, which means they perform it various schools and take only a couple weeks off to do it at BYU.

Instead of doing a “children’s” show, though, like “The Cat in the Hat” or “Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat,” they do things like 1999’s “Yellow Boat,” about a boy with AIDS, or 2000’s “Goodbye, Marianne,” about Jewish children living in Nazi Germany.

“The Taste of Sunrise” is not quite so heady, though it’s every bit as intelligent and mature — a classic example of speaking to children without pandering to them. It’s about a deaf farm boy named Tuc (Daniel Payne, who is deaf) who has been without hearing since scarlet fever struck him as an infant. His devoted father (Tyler Weston) cares for him, and they communicate well enough — “father talk,” Tuc calls it. He is happy.

Then Tuc’s dad hears about a school for the deaf where they can teach Tuc to read lips and even speak. This being the 1920s, folks believe that’s all it takes to assimilate deaf people into society. Tuc’s dad thinks such a thing would be “miraculous.”

At the school, sign language is forbidden. The stern headmistress, Dr. Mann (Laura Aldrich), says it ruins the children’s chances of learning to speak and read lips. The kids sign to each other, though, as does a sassy young girl named Maizie (Rachel Lynne Terry), who helps around the school while taking care of her parents, who are deaf.

When Tuc goes home to visit, his dad expects him to be reading lips. He seems to be able to — but he wants to sign, not talk. Maizie, meanwhile, having been raised by deaf parents in a hearing world, feels torn in half by the conflicting cultures.

The supporting characters, when not speaking onstage, shadow whoever is and provide sign-language translation for them — or, if they’re shadowing someone speaking in sign language, they act as voices for them. There are some intense moments where the conversation is chaotic, and it’s doubled by having another set of actors behind them speaking and signing right along with them. It’s fantastic.

This is almost entirely, from beginning to end, an extraordinarily beautiful play. Children and adults alike will be utterly enchanted by it.

At its best, theater is like sign language in that it communicates to people in ways that transcend words. Theater has spoken dialogue, of course, just as signs have specific meanings. But it’s the movements, the music, the gestures, the facial expressions, the delivery, that truly communicate to an audience. “The Taste of Sunrise” says that it doesn’t matter how you express yourself. What matters is that you do express yourself, and that someone understands you.

Wasn't going to see this show. I was feeling a little burnt-out on theater that particular day, and I could have gotten away with not seeing it, too, since it wasn't a "major" production. I was very glad I did, though. It was a marvelous experience.