Adrian Blue, who plays a theater director in "The Loudest Man on Earth," Catherine Rush's world premiere season opener at TheatreWorks, is not literally the loudest man on earth.
But he may be one of the best actors on earth. (In real life he is primarily a director, and like the character he plays, he's deaf.)
Blue's facial and full-body, mime-like expressiveness, which he uses (along with eloquent signing) to depict Jordan — a brilliant, prickly loner in a relationship with a hearing woman — is revelatory. You may not understand everything he says, but he is always electrifying.
Playwright Rush wrote "Loudest Man" based on her own marriage with Blue, transforming into dramatic material some of their personal experiences as a deaf-and-hearing couple navigating a world of often clueless and sometimes insensitive folks.
Even the fictional Jordan's well-meaning hearing parents, it turns out, have made misguided choices about how to raise and educate a deaf child.
The intermissionless, hour-and-a-half play, in development for several years, was workshopped at the TheatreWorks 2012 New Works Festival.
Set in New York, it comprises a series of short scenes interspersed with Jordan's silent and powerful monologues.
The couple meet when writer Haylee, who knows a little American sign language, is interviewing the famous, iconoclastic director for a feature story. They soon move in together.
For the most part, in their private conversations Haylee — a lanky and endearing Julie Fitzpatrick — verbalizes as she signs (Jordan reads lips).
She is usually the interpreter when they interact with others: thinly drawn characters such as cops, shopkeepers, Haylee's friends and the like played by Cassidy Brown and Mia Tagano in various guises. Imaginative costumes are by Tanya Finkelstein.
Despite a courtship that Rush depicts (rather formulaically) as a Hollywood-style romance, sources of friction between the amorous couple do eventually emerge, including Jordan's tendency to distance himself emotionally and Haylee's not-always-welcome attempts to translate for him.
Pamela Berlin directs with a sure hand, giving Blue all the focus that he deserves.
Rush does not dig particularly deeply into what it means, on the most profound level, for two people who speak different languages — and who, to some extent, come from different cultures — to try to communicate. Opting for too many short comic scenes, she misses some of the play's potential for powerful exploration.
Still, as a feel-good romantic comedy with an intriguing twist, "The Loudest Man" is engrossing and at times quite moving.REVIEW
The Loudest Man on Earth
Presented by TheatreWorks
Where: Lucie Stern Theatre, 1305 Middlefield Road, Palo Alto
When: 7:30 p.m. Tuesdays-Wednesdays, 8 p.m. Thursdays-Fridays, 2 and 8 p.m. Saturdays, 2 and 7 p.m. Sundays; closes Aug. 4
Tickets: $19 to $73
Contact: (650) 463-1960, www.theatreworks.org