By Ferrah Staley/ Entertainment Editor
After five and a half weeks of rehearsal, the Niagara University Theatre debuted a play called Mother Hicks on March 23rd. Mother Hicks was first written in 1986 by Susan Zeder. This play was directed by Steve Braddock, the Head Director of the Niagara University Theatre. What makes this show different from others held at Niagara is the use of American Sign Language (ASL) interpreters throughout the show.
The cast brings the audience along for a story about three outsiders during the depression era. Tuc, played and signed by Samuel Hemphill, a graduate from Buffalo State College, is a young man that is deaf and mute. Throughout the show, the storyline pokes fun at the ignorance of society towards ASL through gestures and microaggressions. The audience is reminded of this through the actors’ phases of shouting and “fake signing.” Every character was accompanied by an interpreter that signs throughout the show that created a moving experience for the audience members.
Disliked by everyone in town, Mother Hicks, played by Krista Cantrell and signed by Rachel Baliey, is an outsider that lives at the top of the mountain away from everyone. Her witty personality and unconventional methods lead the town to believe that she is the cause of death for children in the town instead of the known illness of scarlet fever. The story portrays her as a witch that has hexed children to death including her own. Mourning the loss of her daughter is seen throughout the play as she continues to wash her clothes and pray over them during the night. However, town members make rumors that Mother Hicks goes to the graveyard every night and speaks to the dead, and is the soul cause of Tuc’s deafness.
The last of the outsiders is Girl, played by Colleen Pine and also signed by Lindsay Moran, who is an orphan that bounces from home to home looking to find the love of a family she never had. With no direction or stability in her life, Girl finds herself practicing witchcraft after learning the folktale of Mother Hicks. Girl’s witchcraft terrorizes the town and when a spell goes wrong, she is rescued by Tuc and Mother Hicks. There, Girl learns the real story of Mother Hicks and is able to understand what she had been missing in her own life all this time. In addition she is able to understand Tuc more through sign language.
Production Director, Steve Braddock expressed that the production of Mother Hicks has opened his eyes to ASL culture. In addition, the theatre is looking forward to incorporating ASL in future productions. Braddock expresses in Director’s notes, “I’d like to express my grateful appreciation in Dr. Tim Ireland, and Dr. Debra Colley, and Dr. Henrik Borgstrom, Ms. Nanette Harmon and Dr. Jim McCutcheon for believing in this project and finding the means to realize it.”