The Solid Life of Sugar Water: One Couple's Journey at Deaf West

Leigh Kennicott Reviews - Theater

Deaf West’s signature production mode using ASL–signing actors to enhance the spoken text of a play packs a punch in Deaf West’s latest production, The Solid Life of Sugar Water.  The British play, written by Jack Thorne, follows a couple as they negotiate the waters of trauma due to the stillbirth of their child. The refrain recurs as they try to come to terms: “The baby is … was…”

The event exacerbates formerly hidden undercurrents in the marriage between Alice (Sandra Mae Frank) and Phil (Tad Cooley) as they, and we, embark on their journey toward healing. It is a triumphant depiction of forces that can strengthen and save a marriage. Along the way, the portrayal is so visceral that at times, it becomes hard to watch.

To make it come to life, all elements of crafts–ship harmonizes, from the tidy stage (designed by Sean Fanning), early twenty–first century costuming (Adriana Lambarri), to lighting by Derrick McDaniel, and sound by Noelle Hoffman. The projections —the bed; life size reproductions of the actors — elevate Deaf West’s production beyond more modest aspirations.

Randee Trabitz, who directs with sensitivity, has brought the play to life against an aerial view of the marriage bed as a backdrop.  At times occupied, and other times only a ghostly memory, the bed allows the couple, — Cooley as Phil and Frank as Alice— to drift in and out of the evolving scenes, punctuated by front–of–stage interactions with their spoken counterparts (Nick Apostolina as Phil and Natalie Camunas as Alice), who also portray other characters as necessary.

Playwright Jack Thorne brings a body of screen and stage writing honed in Britain’s system of interwoven live and media works to his image of a couple in crisis, which ends with an explosive confluence of events that so emotionally fraught that the action sent at least one audience member from the room on the night I attended. At conclusion, however, all experienced catharsis in the classical sense.  Make no mistake, this production is an extraordinary achievement.

Solid Life of Sugar Water, continues through October 13th : Thursdays through Saturdays at 8:00 pm and Sundays at 3:00 pm, performed at Rosenthal Theatre, Inner City Arts, 720 Kohler Street, Los Angeles, CA 90012. Next ASL performance on Thursday, September 26, with special ASL workshops before every performance at 7:30 p.m. For tickets phone (818) 762-2998 or online at