Autocorrect Thinks I’m Dead
Sound Theatre Company
Through September 24, 2023
A long time ago, when I started reviewing theater, someone told me that reviewing was very important because a stage production is a living thing that only exists while the art-makers are making it. A review of it marks it in time as having existed. I, therefore, think it’s even more important when it’s a world premiere work where I am one of the few folks that was privileged to see it.
Sound Theatre Company mounted an intricate and somewhat complicated production of Autocorrect Thinks I’m Dead by Aimee Chou. Aimee is Deaf, but her work is not siloed into plays for Deaf folk. She’s writing for everybody. And it was a sold-out run! Except that the entire last sold-out weekend had to be cancelled because of illness.
This quirky, fun play is described by their blurb thusly: “Three Deaf roommates get more than they bargained for when mysterious messages from Alexander Graham Bell start appearing on a vintage teletypewriter phone (TTY). Told in American Sign Language (ASL), spoken English, and English captioning, (it’s a) twist on horror, a genre known for challenging culture and subverting expectations. It features a majority-Deaf and Hard of Hearing cast and creative team – with a set created by a Deaf scenic designer and lighting designer.”
Aimee Chou has also written Humanly Possible, Plumb Crazy Pipe Dream, and the shadow puppetry film Motherclucker! This is her first main stage production.
Autocorrect Thinks I’mDead is an odd title until you realize just how often your autocorrect changes “deaf” to “dead.” That’s one of many funny moments as the actors occasionally interact with the subtitles displayed, almost like another character.
Brittany (Brittany Rupik) and Calvin (Kai Winchester) and Merlin (Phelan Conheady) have rented a house in Salem, MA. It’s a historic location for this historic town, and it turns out that Alexander Graham Bell lived there. But Brittany found the house in a hurry because she had to move quickly. While her housemates aren’t sure what happened, she’s keeping a secret of abuse that is revealed piece by piece.
During their first night, spooky things happen, including lights flashing, the thermostat breaking, and an ancient Teletype machine that starts typing to them! It tells them that they are communicating with Alexander Graham Bell himself! What’s going on? They decide they need to hire a Medium to make contact with the dead. But the one they hire (Jessica Kiely with just the right silly, unhinged character) needs a Deaf interpreter (Talasi Haynes) to help them all communicate.
Then there are a couple of extremely bothersome missionaries (including Van Lang Pham) who are so persistent it becomes unrealistic. I know… “unrealistic” is a strange word to use in a clearly suspend-your-belief play, but there are aspects of this script that ultimately don’t quite work, and an ending that tries to wind up too much confusion and explains it with less finesse than I wish it could.
It’s still a really smart and interesting script that shows a lot of promise for potential rewrites that help slim down the confusions, like a fine-dining meal that has a few too many ingredients. It blends humor, horror, technological glitchy-ness (on purpose) and even history in a unique brew.
The production features subtitles for the hearing audience and those subtitles help the Deaf audience when the cast members are talking out loud. So, the production is for everyone who can read quickly – general audiences over about age 10 or so. It’s not an automated process, so a tech person has to match up the signers and the out-louders.
Sound designer Castor Rosencrantz Kent worked to augment sound effects by increasing the volume and techniques for bringing out vibrations for the Deaf audience members to feel the sound. There are moments of sound menace, and bangs, crucial to startling the audience for the spooky moments.
Spooky lighting effects combined the efforts of Annie Wiegand, Richard Schaefer, and Ken Michels. Director Howie Seago brings it all together. I just wish more people had been able to see it before it disappeared into its own history.
For more articles, please go to https://MiryamsTheaterMusings.blogspot.com and subscribe to get them in your in-box!