May 21, 2004





In need of a better listen to the heart


CJ Jones' new solo show, "What Are You ... Deaf?," features a lot of fancy footwork by this lean, limber deaf actor as he recounts being raised by a stubborn boxer father in St. Louis.


Jones feints, he parries, he does the pugilist's signature kicky warmup move. He even does a "deaf rap" and a lip-sync to Stevie Wonder's "Part-Time Lover."


But perhaps Jones' most frenetic move is the tap dance he does around the heart of his story.


His deaf father may have been an imposing figure, but Jones' take on his upbringing--straddling the worlds of deaf and hearing, black and white--is decidedly lightweight.


There is some rich, fascinating humor in these sharp contrasts.


His deaf parents, raising a gaggle of hearing children, openly rejoice when young CJ falls ill and loses his hearing. Now he can join them in their household's hearing-free zone, "the deaf kitchen."


And though his father pretends to speak each of his children's names--pronouncing them all with a hoarse, inarticulate "oh-boh"--to CJ he counsels a wariness of hearing people that resembles reverse racism.


There's little conflict until, late in the show, we see the father's abusive side and witness the shattering isolation of his dotage. And there's scant exploration of how Jones grew, either despite or due to his father's example, into a well-adjusted if reluctant family man.


Director Stephen Rothman keeps the show skimming along confidently. Actor Paul Raci gives lively voice interpretations at ringside, and Karyl Newman's slide projections and Michael Gilliam'slighting seamlessly aid transitions. Jones' memoir, though, could stand less sleight of hand and more gloves-off self-examination.

Rob Kendt


"What Are You ... Deaf?," Deaf West Theatre, 5112 Lankershim Blvd., North Hollywood. Thursdays-Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Saturdays, 2 p.m.; Sundays, 3 p.m. Ends June 20. $20. (818) 762-2773; (818) 508-8389 (TTY). Running time: 1 hour, 15 minutes.