Actors John Basinger and Dennis Webster. Photo by Ralph Stewart
Actors John Basinger (left) and Dennis Webster rehearse "This Island Alone" at the Vineyard Playhouse. Photos by Ralph Stewart

A different language

By Anna Marie D'Addarie - October 12, 2006

How do outside forces change a community? Can we keep what is special about us in the face of change? Playwrights Catherine Rush and Adrian Blue attempt to answer these questions in their play "This Island Alone," based on the unique, disproportionately large deaf community on Martha's Vineyard in the 1800s.

Next weekend, Friday and Saturday, Oct. 20 and 21, the play will be performed at the Vineyard Playhouse. Two years ago an earlier version of the play titled "A Nice Place to Live" was staged at the playhouse with deaf students from eastern Massachusetts. Now, a new cast will retell the story of the deaf and hearing community on the Island and how there was no difference between a hearing culture and a deaf one.

Vineyard Playhouse artistic director MJ Bruder Munafo. Photo by Ralph Stewart
Vineyard Playhouse artistic director MJ Bruder Munafo (left) greets cast and crew members Emily Hart, Norma Tourangeau, and Dennis Webster at last Tuesday's rehearsal.

When outsiders arrived on the Island they brought with them outside views of the deaf, such as raising the question of whether the deaf had the right to vote. On the Island in 1890 the answer was yes, but off-Island the deaf were fighting for acceptance. At the time no one considered the Island's two languages, sign and English, as unique. Often you didn't know who was deaf and who wasn't. Signing was just a form of communication on the Island, and most people used it.

The play has changed since its first showing in April 2004. It is an opportunity for current residents to find out about our Island's history. The last surviving person from this deaf community, Ann Hillman, died in 1950. Thanks to the playwrights their story will live on.

"This Island Alone," Friday, Oct. 20 and Saturday, Oct. 21, 7 pm, at Vineyard Playhouse, 24 Church Street, Vineyard Haven. Tickets $15, general admission, in advance or at the door. For more information, call 508-696-6300.