In Deaf West’s Flowers of Algernon, Daniel N. Durant played Charlie, a mentally challenged boy. I asked him the following questions:
#1: About Charlie, do you feel it was fair for society to want to change him to be like everyone else?
#2: Which Charlie did you like better?? Comment if you are comfortable.
#3: What is the ‘moral’ in this production that you wanted to show to the audience?
#4: Did you graduate from Gallaudet, if yes, what year and were you a theater major?
Charlie, being aware that he is mentally challenged, “had a passion to become smart like everyone else,” Durant said. So, Charlie had surgery to become ‘normal’ like everyone else, “which was a nice offer from the doctors,” said Durant. On the other hand, Durant did not like how the scientists did not care about Charlie, they only cared about their experiment results and success. When Charlie lost his intelligence at the end of the play, the scientists did not care about him at all. “I did not like that,” said Durant.
Which Charlie did Durant like better–the mentally challenged one or the smart version? “More likely the mentally challenged Charlie,” Durant said. When Charlie became smart, he remembered bad memories of his mother abusing him and other problems. “Charlie was better off mentally challenged thinking the world is perfect.” Charlie is happy with himself being mentally challenged, but he was bullied by his friends. Durant liked Charlie being a bit smarter, but not too smart since of the life problems he faced later.
What is the moral of Deaf West’s version of Flowers of Algernon? “I want to show the audience that Charlie had the passion to become smart, but then faced problems in life with his new mind, then became mentally challenged again. I want to show the audience that no one can be perfect. They need to accept who they are,” Durant said. For example, Durant is deaf, and if people fixed him making him hearing, he “would have problems with communication, speech, ignore ASL, and have a hard life,” Durant said. That is the same principle with mentally challenged people. “Leave it be, as there are different ways to interact with them such as group homes. They are just different,” said Durant.
About Durant’s personal life, following graduation from Minnesota State Academy
for the Deaf in 2008, he attended Rochester Institute of Technology to study computer science for three years, but did not like his field as he was interested in acting. So, he transferred to Gallaudet University and stayed there for one semester due to frustrations being in a new environment. He was also busy trying to become a successful actor. He plans to go back to school to become a teacher’s aide for Marlton School
in Los Angeles when time permits.
Durant also answered my questions from above in ASL, viewable here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kN9x82uacM0&feature=youtu.be
Commentary by me, the journalist. I’m deaf myself and know people who are mentally challenged…is it right to fix ourselves and others to make everyone the same? You know Forrest Gump? Rain Man? Helen Keller? They were just different, although people were frustrated with how to communicate and interact with them. Sometimes fixing something is good, but sometimes it is not…