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October 23, 1986 - Image 15

Resource type:
The Michigan Daily, 1986-10-23
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Two stunning debuts
pair of promising actresses will make
their debuts before American movie
audiences this fall; each is "different"
in ways that might ordinarily hinder or
prevent an acting career. Marlee Matlin,
who is hearing impaired, performs bril-
liantly as a deaf woman in the film version
of Mark Medoff's successful Broadway
play, "Children of a Lesser God." Chinese
actress Joan Chen has been in the .United
States only a few years and spoke imper-
fect, distinctly accented English when she
won a role in the film adaptation of James
Clavell's novel "Tai-Pan." Both women
turn their "differences" to advantage in
unusual, demanding roles.
She is small, so very small, this Marlee
Matlin. Your first reaction to her delicate,
apparent fragility is a desire to protect her
from a harsh world. But if you tried, she
would probably cut you in half with a
glance. Matlin is quick to point out that
she, like many deaf people, resents sympa-
thy and hates condescension. Cast as the
deaf Sarah Norman in her first film, the
new production of "Children of a Lesser
God," Matlin uncorks a withering rage-
and also demonstrates a virtuoso range of
compassion, passion and pain.
Matlin plays a young woman abused and
forsaken both by her family and others.
The character of Sarah, a janitorin aschool
for the deaf that she once attended, begins
to emerge emotionally through the loving
ministrations of a teacher, played with
spellbinding force by Matlin's real-life
companion, William Hurt. In her publi-
cist's office Matlin sits outfitted in a bulky
tweed jacket, black stretch pants and
silver-studded boots-a study in contrasts.
as she signs to an interpreter and munches
cinnamon Red Hots-movie candy-as she
discusses her role. Sarah's rage, she says,
comes "from inside of me and from Sarah
together." Although her own family was
loving and supportive, Matlin recalls rejec-
tion by others during her childhood. She
drew upon her personal experiences and
came to an understanding of Sarah's: "The
two happened to meld together," the ac-
tress says.
Making "Children" was fulfilling for

lye gotten over tnat," she says,
"I'm able to understand the
film better."
You see her power in the way
she communicates. Matlin does
not use the crisp, spare signing
of many professional interpret-
ers; her expressive gestures
carry meaning even for those
untrained in American Sign
Language. Her arms are every-
where, in fierce flurries. When
she says Sarah has "a big
heart," they sweep suddenly
outward in an expansive, shim-
mering motion. She can also be
demure; after a signed obscen-
ity slips out, she apologizes that
"Jewish girls shouldn't talk
like that."
Matlin hopes to continue
working in film and onstage,
where she appeared in a sup-
porting role in a Chicago pro-
duction of "Children." Though
there are few roles for deaf
ESTENBERGER actresses today, Matlin says
ion Chen "there are lots of ideas-you
wouldn't believe how many
ideas there are out there." She
sees hope in the National The-
atre of the Deaf and smaller
troupes, and even in a recent
McDonald's ad with deaf ac-
tors. "I think I see the begin-
nings of it," she says, squinting
into a crevice created between
her slowly opening palms.
Joan Chen is pulling at her
face. "I almost wanted [tug],
y'know [yank], to try to change
it," she confesses. Sitting in an
elegant Manhattan eatery, a
lobster club sandwich before
her, the stunning Chinese ac-
tress is discussing a paradox:
she had to appear more conven-
tionally American inorder to be
hired by American directors so
that she could play Asian wom-
en. Chenhadchangedhername
(from Chen Chong) when she
arrived in the United States in
1982, but she hadn't mastered
the nuances of Western chic,
or something that a strict
Shanghai upbringing hadn't
preparedher for:how tobesexy.
MMA-LIAISON She is a fast learner; Chen
smolders as a Scottish trader's concubine
in "Tai-Pan," which will be released in
November. To play the part of May-May,
the 24-year-old Chen ironically needed a
coach to de-Americanize her soft accent;
four years of college in California and
New York state, it turned out, had left
their linguistic mark. Chen not only mas-

When You Talk, We Listen
W e owe you, our enthusiastic sponse was overwhelming, and
readers, a thank-you for it convinced us that we should
suggesting this month's cover profile Breathed and some of
story. In March 1985, when con- his fellow cartoonists on the
servative students were flexing cutting edge-the ones whose
their muscle, we illustrated our wit and weirdness decorate so
cover with a cartoon by "Bloom many dorm-room doors. The re-
County" artist Berke Breathed. sult begins on page 11 and, oh,
It showed everybody's favorite yes: Breathed's original can
penguin, Opus, in a somewhat still be ordered for $2, check or
right-winged guise, and, in a money order, from Poster,
brief note, we offered a post- NEWSWEEK Building, Box 434,
er-style reproduction. The re- Livingston, N.J. 07039.

Cartoonists: A new wave of
idiosyncratic artists Page 11
Berke Breathed's dashing
life and style Page 12
Gary Larson works "The
Far Side" Page 17
Four more talents Page 18
College Life
How tax revision affects
students Page 20
. Dorms: squeeze play Page 26
Sports: Following the side-
lined freshmen Page 22
Health: TMJ can be a head-
ache; courtship violencePage 37
Robert Coles, peripatetic
Page 20 professor Page 40
Texas's Aggies prove the
old jokes wrong Page 44t
West Point cadets try out
heavy artillery Page 48
Learning about the real
world via internships Page 50
Finding internships Page 52
Resumes: A prize-winning college
photographer; guides to
starting a career on paper
and on disc; a movie
hustler Page 54
The Arts
Books: Donald Barthelme serves
up a stylish potpourri; a
Barthelme profile; a first novel
from Lorrie Moore Page 56
Music: Robert Cray blends blues
with R&B; a hard-edge
quartet Page 6t
Movies: Two young actresses with
a difference; a director works
with screen legends Page 62
Multiple Choice: Southern Illinois
video madness; Missouri gets a
megalith;new aid formcuts red
tape; a professor who preaches
better grades; fighting porn
(and porn fighters) in Wis-
consin; Grinnell gets a
yearbook 20 years later Page 38
My Turn Page 64
The Mail Page 5
Cover: Photo by Jody Boyman.
Opus figure ©1986
Washington Post
Writers Group.

Matlin because so many people involved
with the film, including the director, as-
sistant director and leading man Hurt,
learnedsignlanguage, andmuchoftherest
of the cast was deaf. At first Matlin was
uncertain how she felt about the film, possi-
bly because she was too close to develop
an objective perspective. "But now that

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