Reading Lips: the Synopsis

Bryan
"Am I gay man who happens to 
be deaf?  Or a deaf man who just
happens to be gay?"
That is the dilemma Bryan McKenzie faces on the eve of his 40th birthday.  At first it seems that everyone else has the answer.  His father, George, a well-meaning blue collar worker insists that being deaf is more important. 
 
                               George
I’m perfectly okay with your being a ho-ho-homo–
 
                               Bryan
Try “gay” Dad. 
 
                               George
Ga-ga-ga –  
 
But his best friend, Phillip, insists that being gay has had more impact.
 
                               Phillip
You can’t expect to get over being gay, deaf and Catholic all in the same lifetime.
 
Nebraska.  The 1970’s.  At age nine, Bryan goes off to Rosewood, a school for the deaf.  There he meets Phillip, who is already a rebel, challenging authority everywhere.  Indeed, he is teaching himself ASL, an anathema to the conservative headmaster. 
 
Bryan, always introspective, poses this question:
 
                              Bryan
Is there anything you wouldn’t give up if you could hear? 
They decide it would be easy to sacrifice a finger, or being American or even an eye (“It’s only one eye.  You just won’t enjoy 3-D movies as much”).  Their hearing loss remains the defining experience of their lives. 
 
At the age of 20, now estranged from his father, Bryan moves to New York.  As Act I ends, he and Phillip are openly gay (never lovers) and wildly excited by the boundless opportunities that lay before them. 
 
As Act II begins, the men (now in their 30’s) are on different trajectories: Phillip is a lawyer, while Bryan is an office assistant, vaguely pursuing acting and school.
                           Phillip
You’re the only student I know who’s up for tenure.
 
Bryan tries to settle on a career and mend the rift with this father.  Phillip, although financially successful and finally in love, faces his deteriorating hearing.
 
At the play’s climax, their hearing issues become critical: Bryan loses an important acting internship and worries that he will never find a career.  Phillip is being forced into an administrative position at his firm.  Bryan proposes they take the sign language classes they were raised to abhor.   
RL Logo text.jpg
Meanwhile, at George's retirement party, Bryan learns more about what kept them apart.
                             George
We shouldn't have sent you off to that school?
                             Bryan
That’s what the problem was?
 
                             George
Sure.  What else could it have been?
 
                             Bryan
Oh, nothing. 
 
Bryan decides to embrace his deafness into a position he can succeed in.  But Phillip is unable to overcome his prejudices.  When Bryan poses the question of they would give up in order to be able to hear one last time, Phillip says he would not give up being gay. 
Bryan, who now sees being deaf in a new light, has found his own rebellious streak:
                              Bryan
“It’s part of my culture, like Stonewall.” 
 
In the final scene, he comes downstage as he was at the play’s beginning:
 
                             Bryan
“So these two men still love me and they still drive me crazy.  I still don’t know what I want to be when I grow up.  Nothing’s changed.  Only now I’m 40.  Haven’t I learned anything at all?
    (pause) 
Yes, I have: I am a deaf gay man.” 
Staging Requirements
Reading Lips is presented on a bare stage whose simple props evoke settings ranging from the Midwest to a fireworks celebration to an Upper East Side dinner party.  
  • Two acts, with scenes that flow into each other.  
  • Casting requirements: Four men and one woman (one man and the woman play multiple roles)
  • Age ranges: 
    Two men – late 20’s to 30’s. 
    Two men – late 40’s to 60’s
    One woman – 30’s to 50’s.
 
A DVD of a rehearsed reading is available.  The play has received a performance with ASL interpretation.