FALLING ON DEAF EYES
Sometimes, parents just don’t understand!
Fresh Prince and Jazzy Jeff (1988)
The title intrigued me. I thought the wording was an error. Deaf ears, make sense. Deaf eyes, excuse me! Interesting title may equal interesting play. It wasn’t just interesting. It was unique, inspiring and attention-grabbing. What begins as a ‘seen-it, heard it’ formulaic story of kids battling their parents continues to be a touching, crazy-ass hysterical story of a hearing son and his deaf mother understanding each other. Written and acted by Justin Maurer, his character, also named Justin, shares his love for his mother (actress Lisa Hermatz is engaging) and his salvation—punk music. The autobiographical story takes place in the 1990s. Justin was born in Santa Monica, California where a friend introduced him to the punk rock scene. He fondly remembers listening to the 1991 breakthrough album Nevermind by Grammy-award winning rock band Nirvana, which made an impactful impression on the teen. Mom uproots her family, which includes Justin’s little sister, to a small town in Washington.
Life is rough for the newly-single mom at first. With two active teenagers, mom has a lot of hurdles to overcome. One is cementing her relationship with her eldest child. Justin dives deeply into the punk rock scene. The music provides Justin a ‘you-best-get-out-my-face’ attitude which the talented singer and songwriter maintains with a swagger. He has pictures of his various bands taped against his bedroom wall and his Hohner SG guitar slung over his neck. He proudly wears a white T-shirt of punk rock god GG Allin (from GG and the Jabbers, who died at age 36 from an overdose of heroin) and is ready to battle mom. He is what is known as a CODA (child of a deaf adult).
She’s trying to keep her family safe and sees the punk rock as an excuse to behave badly and get into trouble. Justin, the teen, tries to convince his mom that punk rock is freedom. A loud form of expression to exhale the nonsense going around in the world. Mom looks at her boy as if he done lost his ever loving mind. Justin feels the same way about her. Interesting enough, Justin’s father was in a KISS cover band. That’s how his parents met. His mother sees the same love in music in Justin, like his daddy, so she’s concerned. She reminds him as a matter-of-factly, “Remember, I have deaf eyes.” She wasn’t joking. Nothing gets past this loving, stern mama. Justin talks to the audience and reveals how in one performance he had a warrant out for performing almost naked. He shielded his manhood with a large bright orange cone and continued to perform. This gesture is reminiscent when late frontwoman of the band Plasmatics, Wendy O. Williams bared her breasts while performing. On the TV screen above, there are images and videos mashups of slide shows of photos, music videos from his various bands and a home video from the 1980s. His cousin Tim Maurer edited the work.
As Justin tells his story, Mom is looking at him and signs, “who are you talking to?” He readily responds “Mom it’s a CODA thing. We talk to ourselves.” They communicate by stomping their foot on the ground. It’s a system.
He encouraged his mother to return to school in New York and get her master’s degree. She would later become a teacher at a deaf school. Justin stayed behind and played in different bands while working side gigs to survive. A personal favorite was his job as a Hollywood tour bus guide.
For every Buzzcock, Henry Rollins, Sex Pistols fan, this show is definitely for you!! And if punk rock isn’t your thing, you might consider getting a cd from groups like Velvet Underground or the Slits to see what the a noise is all about. It’s worth it.
Falling on Deaf Eyes plays Saturday, June 22nd at 6:30 p.m. and Sunday, June 23rd at 2:30 p.m. at McCadden Place Theatre, located at 1157 N McCadden Place in Los Angeles For ticket information, log on to www.hollywoodfringe.org/projects/5982. Running time is 55 minutes. Ticket price is $20.