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Children of a Lesser God


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A: Mark Medoff Pf: 1979, Las Cruces, New Mexico Pb: 1980 G: Drama in 2 acts S: American state school for the deaf, restaurant, James's home, etc., existing only ‘in the mind of James’, 1970s C: 3m, 4fFranklin, the principal of a school for the deaf, gives James Leeds, one of his teachers, a particularly difficult case to deal with: Sarah Norman, deaf from birth, is now in her twenties, and stubbornly rejects all efforts to teach her to lip-read and to speak, although she signs very well. James is attracted to Sarah, and they meet for dinner and dance together. While James tries to get her to speak, Sarah insists that she is happier in her own deaf world, working as a maid. Despite the jealousy of other pupils and warnings by the Principal, they eventually marry. Sarah begins to live a ‘normal’ life, playing bridge with James, her mother, and Franklin, but she confesses that she feels ‘caught between two worlds’. Sarah and James become involved in a campaign to employ more deaf teachers. Sarah is angry that a hearing lawyer is to speak on their behalf and decides that she will write the speech to the commission. Rehearsing her speech, she declares: ‘All my life I have been the creation of other people.’ James accuses her of seeing ‘vanity and cowardice as pride’, and of refusing to speak so that she can be different, and she does begin to use words. Chastened, she withdraws from giving her speech. Later, James is penitent about his outburst, and while Sarah for a while wishes to work things out on her own, they can look forward to a future together.

A: Mark Medoff Pf: 1979, Las Cruces, New Mexico Pb: 1980 G: Drama in 2 acts S: American state school for the deaf, restaurant, James's home, etc., existing only ‘in the mind of James’, 1970s C: 3m, 4f

Whether for Oscars or for Tony Awards, the depiction of mental or physical disability is a great vote-winner. Unsurprisingly then, Children of a Lesser God won the 1980 Tony Award; though not just for its sympathy-inducing content, but also for the quality of its writing. It explores without sentimentality the vexed question whether the deaf should be encouraged to join with the hearing in trying to speak their language. On another level, it examines the central question of theatrical performance, the relationship between the image and the spoken word.

Subjects: Theatre — Literary Studies (Plays and Playwrights).


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