The Arty Semite

Adina Tal Speaks An International Language

By Simi Horwitz

Courtesy of Nalag'at Center

As the audience files into NYU’s Skirball Center the deaf-blind actors are already on stage kneading dough. Throughout “Not by Bread Alone,” they are preparing bread for themselves and theatergoers who at the end of the performance will join the actors on stage and share the bread with them. Interspersed with the preparation—and as the sweet smell of baking fills the house — relationships between bakers are explored, daily life is lived, and dreams revealed.

A few of the actors speak, but mostly they communicate with each other through touch sign language and “translators,” who help with inter-communication, while serving as guides, steering the actors across the stage.

The 11 performers who comprise Tel Aviv’s Nalag’at (meaning “do touch”) are afflicted with Usher Syndrome, meaning they were born deaf or became deaf shortly thereafter and ultimately went blind. During its 13 year existence the company has garnered an international reputation for its ground-breaking theater that has unwittingly forged a new theatrical language. The current New York production marks the company’s American debut.

Founder and artistic director Adina Tal does not allow her troupe to perform in theater festivals that present and celebrate the work of physically or mentally challenged actors. If the latter are producing terrific theater, that’s fine. But disability in and of itself is no bond as far as she’s concerned.

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