“Sound,” a new play that explores the debate over cochlear implants that help the deaf hear and speak, is at ACT Theatre through Oct. 4.

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Allison is caught between her two long-divorced parents.

Custody isn’t the issue. Their fierce tug of war is about whether their daughter, deaf like her father, should get a cochlear implant — a choice she’s made that’s supported by her (hearing) mother.

From the opening moments of “Sound,” Don Nguyen’s intriguing and empathetic (if overly didactic) drama tackles the issue square-on.

Theater Review


By Don Nguyen. Through Oct. 4, Azeotrope at ACT Theatre, 700 Union St., Seattle; $25-$30 (206-292-7676 or acttheatre.org).

“Sound” is in its world-premiere run at ACT Theatre. And to the credit of Nguyen, and co-directors Desdemona Chiang and Howie Seago, this Azeotrope production tries to treat a hotly contested issue even-handedly.

Like many adolescents, Allison (the very gifted young Cheyenna Clearbrook) constantly texts her besties, has a crush on a schoolmate, and often regards her doting parents with sulky disdain.

She and her fisherman father, George (Ryan Schlecht) are part of a close-knit deaf community. They converse in ASL (American Sign Language) as does Allison’s bilingual mother, Barbara (Lindsay W. Evans).

An electronic cochlear device receives and transmits sounds to the brain via the auditory nervous system. Allison wants one mainly as an educational aid.

But proud, fuming George worries she’ll drift away from him as the implant helps her hear and learn spoken English, and that she’ll stop signing and identifying as a deaf person.

Between family debates, medical personnel explain the implant procedure to Allison, and the sometimes challenging postoperative learning process. These mini-lectures are theatrically dry, but informative nonetheless.

In awkward counterpoint to Allison’s story is a 19th-century narrative about the inventor Alexander Graham Bell (Richard Sloniker), as he races to create a hearing aid for his deaf wife, Mabel (Elizabeth Ayers Gibson). She can speak and read lips, but is going blind and won’t be able to lip-read.

Through their correspondence we get a humanized portrait of Bell, whose negative view of signing, and belief that deafness was a defect that should be eradicated from the gene pool, still infuriates many.

But Bell’s story might work better as another play.

Also, the modern roles in “Sound” (particularly George) need more dimensionality. And near the abrupt end, the balance tilts negatively, with a crucial question left dangling.

The need for script revision aside, Chiang and Seago deserve high praise for their graceful accommodation of a bilingual audience. Well-placed interpreters and projected titles convey dialogue in ASL and spoken English.

It is all clearly arranged, and gives voice to everyone in a cast of talented deaf and hearing actors.