Alona Sultan is slender and youthful, with long hair and a pale complexion that contrasts with her dark eyes. The 35-year-old says that since her birthday falls in the summer, she never had a proper celebration with friends – the few she had.
Sultan, along with her fellow deaf and blind actors, shares this and other personal stories with the audience in the Na Laga’at (Please Touch) theater’s play Luna Park.
Zvi Tal, the play’s director and composer, says most of the text is drawn from stories the actors told him and the show’s translators over three years of working on the production. In the play, the actors throw Sultan a birthday party with balloons and sweets.
Luna Park joins Na Laga’at’s longrunning play Not by Bread Alone, which is performed three times a week at the Jaffa Port theater. It is staged and directed by Zvi’s mother Adina Tal, the founder of Na Laga’at.
In both shows, the actors use dialogue and music to introduce themselves to the hearing and seeing audience and share what it feels like to live in darkness. The shows end with the actors inviting the audience on stage to meet them, shake hands and share the delicious food they have prepared throughout the play.
Luna Park is beautiful, endearing and festive, with bright lights, colors and costumes, and feels like the warmest of gifts the actors are presenting to the audience with love.
It is fascinating to watch the actors sign on stage as their translators speak aloud to the audience and work together to cue one another to movements, lines, stage entrances and exits. Often, one actor will place a hand on another's shoulder and so on down the line to cue an exit.
It is through touch alone that the actors interact with the world and know that someone else is there.
The name of the theater is a play on the phrase often seen on signs in museums and elsewhere throughout Israel, “Please Don’t Touch.” At Na Laga’at, it is an invitation to connect.
Na Laga’at recruited the actors from menial factory jobs. None had acted before, and some did not know sign language, except for several phrases to express basic emotions to their families, such as pain, hunger or tiredness. At Na Laga’at they learned Hebrew sign language and have come a long way in their communication skills and ability to handle so much attention, says the director.
“In this meeting with the people, with the audience, they are the stars. People come to see them. It’s huge for them,” he says.
In Luna Park, the 11 actors – seven men and four women ranging in age from 30s to 60s – play workers in an amusement park. Sultan’s character finds herself there after getting lost on the bus.
Interspersed between raw, emotional dialogue, the actors dance and sing, alongside their vocal translators.
The actors work closely with their translators, who found their way to Na Laga’at via various paths.
Because the actors came with different levels of sign language, the translator had to adapt, and it has not always been easy.
“It’s worth it because the minute you have that connection, it’s like a key and a bridge of success,” says one translator.
Tal admits that prior to joining Luna Park, he had preconceptions about what it would be like to work with deaf and blind actors.
“Art is what I do,” he says. “I wanted to do normal theater.”
But he discovered that Na Laga’at was not so different from any other theater, except for the slower pace the actors needed to take.
“You have to go to the most simple layer you can find. I think that simplicity in art is a great thing anyway. It’s something you can find here. There is no nuance.”
For an even more hands-on experience, Na Laga’at also has two restaurants. At Café Kapish, patrons give their meal order in sign language to their deaf waiters.
At BlackOut, clients eat their meal sitting in total darkness and communicate verbally with one another and their blind waiter.
To order theater tickets (NIS 55 – NIS 150) or to make a reservation at the restaurants, visit nalagaat.org.il.