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Sometimes, the desire to learn isn't enough to get the job done.
Lakeland College Theatre will tell the story a group of college students who fight to overcome their learning disabilities when it stages "ENglish Is A FoReign LangUage," a powerful and touching play by Peter Dee.
Lakeland will stage its production on Thursday-Saturday, Oct. 30-31 and Nov. 1, at 7:30 p.m., and perform a matinee on Sunday, Nov. 2, at 2 p.m. All performances are in the Bradley Theatre. Tickets are $10 for adults, $8 for seniors and $5 for non-Lakeland students and are available by contacting Deb Fale at 565-1536 or available for order online at lakeland.edu/theatre.
Dee's work conveys what it must be like to cope with ADHD and dyslexia, and paints a vivid picture of how real people handle the debilitating low self-esteem that comes with them.
In the story, a small college attempts to be proactive in helping students with learning disabilities, and it invites a playwright to interview students whose learning abilities are impaired by conditions or trauma.
In the end, the experiment serves a variety of purposes: the students with the learning disabilities open up and find they are not as alone as they feared, and they take some control back in their lives. Dee creates a piece which poetically paints the world of broken pieces his characters live through its content, but also in the way the play is constructed.
"It has an 'ADHD-ness' to it, if you will," said Charlie Krebs, director of Lakeland College Theatre. "This is a play about how fluency in communication and comprehension affects people's lives."
Lakeland Theatre has enlisted the college's Academic Resource Center in an effort to portray the learning disabilities with accuracy and sensitivity. The main messages, Krebs said, are courage and triumph.
"That in itself is inspiring in this play," Krebs said. "Finding ways to explain learning disabilities is like trying to hit a moving target. And finding solutions is even harder. A play about a play is a unique approach, to say the least, but it just might be the right tool to pull it off.
"This play has opened my eyes more than I could have imagined. I never knew how the conditions so severely impacted a person's self image and self worth. I think everyone in the cast has had profound experience in understanding people who may be right next to them in the classroom."
Lakeland's production includes a number of physical effects that will help further communicate the trials of the play's characters.
The set design will incorporate askew angles and surfaces, so the way audiences look at the scenery will give tricky perceptions. Some of the playing surfaces on the stage will be sloping, forcing the actors to act on an incline, and the stage will have cables running all across it, creating metaphorical trip hazards.
"The characters talk about losing control and falling into a pit that they won't be able to get out of," Krebs said. "To physically portray that, we are taking out a few sections of the stage to create a big hole in the floor. The lighting we will create incomplete feelings, and we will use shadows and glare to visually suggest incomprehensibility.
"We want to visually represent the distortion that impairs these students' perception of the world."
Krebs said the story offers a poignant and often funny message, especially for those interested in education and its related fields.
"It is a good fit for Lakeland because, as a faculty member myself, I am aware of the increased effect learning disabilities have in our students' ability to acquire knowledge," Krebs said. "There is humor in the show as well: humor that these characters often use to mask their feelings, but also humor which comes from an insubmersible love of life."
Cast: Chris Wray (John); Katelyn Gussert (Ellen); Cody Linder (Walter); Jesse Fields (Cathy); Michael Huber (Ray); Katrina Johnson (Sylvia); Peter Bemis (Harry); Joe Janisch (Dr. Springstone); Bridget Johnston (Jane); Jason Ehlenfeldt (Jason); Stephanie Rubsem (Nancy); Tiffany Kelley (Kelly); Marie Perry (Mother); Autumn Beaudoin (Girl).
Director: Charlie Krebs; Asst. Director: Jackson Palmer; Costumer: Ricki Dorothy.