LOS ANGELES—(Nov. 25, 2003) Marlton School, Los Angeles' only day school for the deaf, will be presenting The Old Lady Who Popped Out of the Sidewalk and Became a Christmas Tree, the latest play written by playwright Henry Ong. Marlton School is located in South Los Angeles at 4000 Santo Tomas Drive.

The play will be performed as part of the holiday program by the school's deaf students on Thursday, Dec. 11 at 10 a.m. and Friday, Dec. 12 at 10 a.m. and 7 p.m..

The Old Lady…” is a morality play about a poor man struggling to keep his family fed, and the temptation to become enormously rich when he encounters an Old Lady who pops out of the sidewalk.

While the deaf students perform in American Sign Language, Ong recruited actors who will read the lines offstage so that the hearing audience can follow the storyline.

“It’s interesting that in a deaf performance, the ‘words’ are not as important,” Ong said. “American Sign Language (ASL) being such a conceptual language, makes it all the more important for me to paint pictures rather than just be tied to language.

“There is an innate theatricality to signing as a means of communication and I hope that my play complements that. In everyday communication, hearing people tend not be very expressive, but in the deaf world, facial expressions and body language plays a big part in communicating feelings.

“Still, I’m surprised at how well some of the “spoken” ideas translate into American Sign Language. For example, there is a character in the play—a reporter—who speaks backwards. I wondered, Is it possible to sign backwards? Apparently it is!”

The play, translated into American Sign Language by Wanda La Coure, was developed from a 2003-2004 City of Los Angeles Cultural Affairs Department grant awarded to the playwright.

"We are delighted to have Henry Ong work with our staff and drama students on this whimsical message play," said Nancy Huerta, Marlton's principal. "We are happy that Henry also conducts workshops in the school to broaden the students' experience on a variety of topics, including acting, lighting and set and costume design."

"My aim is to stimulate interest in the students in all aspects of a production, not just performing," said Ong, a six-time Department of Cultural Affairs grant recipient. "It'll be fun to have the students contribute ideas that can be incorporated into the actual design and production of the show."

Ong has conducted several youth drama workshops, using Asian folktales as the basis for improvisation by children. Some of the plays developed include Lady White Snake, a Chinese folktale staged at Central Library, The Fire Boy, a Japanese folktale staged at the Cahuenga Branch Library, and Golden Flower Princess, a Thai folktale, performed earlier this year at Marlton School.

Ong is a journalist-turned-playwright who worked for several newspapers and magazines before embarking on his theatrical writing career. He is an internationally-produced playwright whose signature play and first foray into playwriting was an instant success. The one person play, Madame Mao's Memories" is based on the life of Chairman Mao's widow, Jiang Oing, was last seen at the Old Globe Theatre is San Diego in 1994.

Other plays include People Like Me, (DramaLogue award for writing), Fabric (Singapore Arts Festival and scheduled for its American premiere next year at Playwrights' Arena), and Sweet Karma.

Ong is a member of the Dramatist Guild, the Los Angeles Stage Alliance and the Alliance of Los Angeles Playwrights. He is an Artistic Associate and Literary Manager of Playwrights’ Arena.

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Copyright 2003, Roger W. Tang

Questions? Email gwangung@u.washington.edu