MAY 2023 | Volume 227
Up in the Air Theatre
May 24-June 4
- Catfish by Simran Gill & Jess Amy Shead
May 26, 31, June 1
Sold out for the rest of its run at this year’s rEvolver Festival at The Cultch, Simran Gill and Jess Amy Shead’s Catfish tells an entertaining and theatrically innovative comic story of a high school teenager caught between the deaf and hearing worlds. Co-directors Chris Dodd and Gavan Cheema combine Signed Exact English, spoken English, and American Sign Language with surtitles, video, Instagram exchanges, and Bhangra, sometimes overwhelming the audience with stimuli. You just don’t know where to look. But charming performances and effectively dramatized material about the struggles and internal politics of the hearing-impaired community provide revelations for those, like me, who know little or nothing about that world.
The plot is structured as a clever romantic triangle involving hearing-impaired Michelle (Gill) and her long-time bestie, Cory (Kelsie James), who has learned sign language so she can communicate comfortably with Michelle. (I’m guessing a little here about who plays whom, because the roles are not made clear in the program, so forgive me if I confuse actors and parts.) Both girls fall for the cute, funny new guy in school, Jacob (Matheus Severo), but he prefers Cory, partly because he has trouble understanding Michelle, even when she is accompanied by an interpreter (Shead) who signs for her when Jacob speaks and speaks to Jacob for her when Michelle signs.
Unbeknownst to Cory, Michelle develops an elaborate Instagram scam to try to get Jacob to take her to the school dance, meanwhile confiding via FaceTime in another deaf friend (Thurga Kanagasekarampillai). In their often comical exchanges we learn how Michelle, who has partial hearing, feels alienated from both the deaf and hearing worlds. While the kids are doing school projects on their cultural backgrounds—Michelle’s Punjabi heritage and Cory’s Celtic—we also come to understand that deafness/hearing impairment comprises a complex, multifaceted culture of its own.
Produced by Alley Theatre in partnership with the Greater Vancouver Association of the Deaf, Catfish perfectly exemplifies Upintheair Theatre’s mission statement for rEvolver: incubating risky new work by emerging artists that reflects diverse voices and experiences.https://upintheairtheatre.com/revolver-festival/
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