Deaf, and an expert in the absurdities of the world: Chris Dodd’s Deafy at the Citadel, a review

Chris Dodd in Deafy, Citadel Theatre. Photo by Nanc Price

By Liz Nicholls,

In Deafy, currently running in the Citadel’s Rice Theatre, we meet a man with a fine-tuned sense of the absurdities of the world. In his wry way he’s an expert in negotiating obstacles both large and niggling, rolling with the punches, deflecting them, exercising his eye-rolls on them.

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He’s had lots of practice. Nathan Jesper is Deaf. And life is complicated when you’re Deaf. At the start of this hit tragi-comedy by and starring Chris Dodd (the founder and artistic director of SOUND OFF, the influential national festival of Deaf arts), he gets flung onto the stage barefoot, by some sort of blast, forces beyond his control. Dave Clarke’s terrific sound design has a heartbeat to it, the kind of pulse you feel in your ribcage, with top notes of industrial buzz. 

“O shit, where are the interpreters?” Nathan is played by the playwright, who’s an exceptionally physical, expressive, rubber-faced actor (armed with a vivid movement score by choreographer Ainsley Hillyard). Nathan has a job to do and he’s running way late (“Listen, I’m sorry, I got bumped”). He’s picked up a gig as a Deaf public speaker and Deaf educator, who negotiates the world in three languages, spoken English, ASL, and captioning. As for the latter Nathan’s adversarial relationship with his captions (and a laugh track gone askew) is one of the comic motifs of a show that’s very funny, and also insightful and moving.  

Chris Dodd in Deafy, Citadel Theatre. Photo by Nanc Price

Who Are You? demands the caption. Good question, and we don’t know if it’s for Nathan or for us.  

I saw Ashley Wright’s appealing production, as rhythmic as a dance, at the 2021 Fringe and loved it. And I enjoyed it again in this revival for the Citadel’s Highwire Series, the first play by a Deaf playwright ever on a Citadel stage in the company’s 58-season history.  

Chris Dodd, creator and star of Deafy, Citadel Theatre. Photo by Nanc Price.

It struck me again that what breaks your heart about Deafy is also what gives the show its eye-watering comic edge. Nathan’s asks aren’t big. His dreams are modest: hang out with friends, go to the bar and have a few beers while the hockey game’s on TV, get his driver’s licence, take the train. What could be less demanding?  

Things have a way of going off the rails for Nathan in his tricky negotiations with the hearing world. The bartender claims he can’t turn on the TV captions for the hockey game. Nathan’s friend Len is outraged. Then the Motor Vehicles clerk says Deaf people aren’t allowed to get drivers’ licences. Wrong. Then, it transpires that no interpreters are allowed for drivers’ tests, which makes no sense at all. So Len comes up with a lunatic work-around involving a blanket and a garden gnome (my lips are sealed). This episode has the kind of cracked deadpan hilarity, in the telling, that will remind you of Bob Newhart’s celebrated driving lesson sketch. 

Chris Dodd in Deafy, Citadel Theatre. Photo by Nanc Price

“Let me tell you about the last time I rode the train.” The episode involving Nathan and a persistent accordion player busking in a train car will make you wince-laugh, too. Dodd is an ace storyteller, a master of those wry eyebrow lifts and rueful shrugs that, along with precision comic timing, set the old-school comedians apart.

Nathan’s stories get darker, sadder, more fraught as his hard-won hegemony between the Deaf and hearing worlds begins to fall apart, and leaves him adrift, increasingly isolated from both. Who are you? asks the caption again. And there’s no answer forthcoming for the outsider perpetually looking in. A silent encounter with a homeless man in an airport — “no destination, no passport, a man without a country, a man like me who doesn’t belong” — will twist your heart. 

What is it like to be Deaf? This is a personal invitation into that experience: artfully constructed and enlightening.

See 12thnight’s PREVIEW with Chris Dodd here.



Theatre: Citadel Highwire Series

Written by and starring: Chris Dodd

Directed by: Ashley Wright

Running: through Feb. 12

Tickets:, 780-425-1820



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