Review: Destiny U.S.A was a vulnerable look into Deaf and Hard of Hearing experiences

Ambitious, intimate and proud of it, Destiny U.S.A is an earnest and touching window into the lives of those cast to the margins of society. Part of UBC creative writing professor Bryan Wade’s wider goal of increased visibility for playwrights, the ongoing Cascadia Project play series at Studio 1398, provides a cozy space to engage with the performance process more profoundly. Destiny U.S.A is a semi-autobiographical show performed by UBC creative writing master’s candidate Laura Anne Harris, whose work on the stage, both solo and non-solo, has brought her across North America and beyond.

The show focuses on Harris’ time working at a call relay centre for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing in Syracuse, New York. She explores the vulnerability and compassion it takes to be on both sides of the phone line through a series of vignettes and poetry. Particular attention is directed at mental health, economic anxiety and accessibility issues for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing. The audience members are given more insight into the effort and impact of relay work, as well as the strain of her move from Canada to upstate New York in the Trump era. Witty and thoughtful comedy throughout the show keeps the audience engaged and further highlights the emotional highs and lows in the narrative.

The design of the set was minimal, though not pretentious, and the light work was executed to profound emotional affect. The sound design was particularly effective at creating moods and contexts that deftly complemented Harris’ work on stage. The accents Harris did for each of the characters were excellent and deepened the immersion. The size of the venue itself added to the intimacy of her performance and permitted a degree of audience interaction that was neither forced nor overenthusiastic. Slight stumbles were present; however, they were hardly noticeable and served only to further humanize the performance.

I walked away from Destiny U.S.A deeply touched by the vulnerability and authenticity I’d witnessed on stage. As an American student studying abroad, the performance struck a note and reminded me of some of the people I grew up with in Minnesota; a cold state not unlike Syracuse. The play also serves as a great introduction to solo shows if you, like I am, are more unfamiliar with that genre. If you are searching for a relief from modern cynicism and despair, look no further than Destiny U.S.A.