LOS ANGELES – In any marriage, communication is key, and perhaps even more so when the couple is going through a traumatic experience.

No spoilers here, but actress Sandra Mae Frank says people tend to avoid discussing the struggles in their lives and relationships.

“We need more of that and less of like, ‘Hey, everything is great,’" Frank says. "We need to really get into the profound and deep stuff.”

The British play The Solid Life of Sugar Water does just that. The two-character piece was originally written for speaking actors, although one of the characters is written as being deaf. The U.S. premiere mounted by Deaf West Theatre changes things a bit. 

Both characters are portrayed as deaf and performed by deaf actors. Frank sees the addition of American Sign Language or ASL as a benefit.

“Once you add the layer of ASL on top of it, it becomes all the more deep, visual. It’s more dense. You understand more even," Frank said. "Sometimes you’ll hear a spoken word and maybe not recognize fully what it means, but once it’s shown or portrayed in American Sign Language, then you really see it. We call that, deaf gain.”

The show is performed in Deaf West’s signature style -- presenting the material in both ASL and spoken English.

According to actor Tad Cooley, that "makes it very clear so that both hearing and Deaf audiences can understand fully what’s going on.”

Natalie Camunas is one of the two voice actors. She calls this a bilingual production.

“It’s visually incredibly compelling and then you get this audio version of it.  You don’t miss anything.  Nobody misses anything,” said Camunas.  

This is Frank's fourth production with Deaf West. She also starred in their Tony-nominated revival of Spring Awakening. She applauds the company for portraying deaf culture in a way that’s honest and authentic and also for giving deaf actors opportunities that she says used to be a lot fewer and further between.  

“Nowadays, wow! It’s growing," Frank said. "You see more and more deaf actors appearing, more opportunities, more television, stage and film opportunities.”

Frank stresses that doesn’t mean the characters have to be written as deaf.

“Every time I audition, it never says this is a role written for a hearing actor. So I always go in and audition because maybe the script can be modified very slightly to show how a deaf person would live that moment. Because it’s almost the same thing, you know, a deaf person experiencing it or a hearing person,” said Frank.

A message worth communicating to all audiences in all ways.

Previews of the The Solid life of Sugar Water run from September 5 to 8 at Inner-City Arts. The show opens on September 12 and runs through October 13.  It is recommended for mature audiences only. Tickets and information can be found here.

Promotional shot of "The Solid Life of Sugar Water." (Courtesy: Iris Schneider)
Promotional shot of "The Solid Life of Sugar Water." (Courtesy: Iris Schneider)