"Children of a Lesser God" might be taken for a message play, but the message doesn't propel the story so much as human beings do. Deafness -- playwright Mark Medoff's modus operandi -- seems less a grand theme than a device for revealing people.
The road company at the Warner Theater gets much of this across, with decent acting, fluid staging and loads of visual puns. The production may look spartan, with wooden benches and a chalkboard to set the scene, but it often seems a rich business otherwise. Even the Warner's sound system, working a tad better than usual, doesn't detract from the doings.
The two-act play, which opened on Broadway in 1980, treats a speech teacher's romance with a deaf woman at a school for the hearing-impaired. The two -- James and Sarah -- get married, but Sarah stubbornly refuses to learn speech or lip-reading: to do so, she believes, would be like selling her soul. James, her sign-language conduit to the workaday world, doesn't at first insist; but he laments, "You live in a place I can't enter -- out of reach."
This circumstance -- into which all manner of people, hearing and deaf, pop now and again -- has a lot of dramatic potential, much of which is realized in Medoff's script. And, as the show reveals, there's no small amount of humor there, too.
The cast, with some actors who can hear and some who can't, has solid leads in Jackie Kinner and Rico Peterson. Kinner, once an actress at Gallaudet College, has a naturalistic way of expressing herself, even when frantically "signing." Peterson, who carries himself like a college jock, brings to the role of James a sure sense of the laugh line -- and to his translations of Sarah's signings a persuasive authenticity. "By the time I finish spelling it," he tells her in a restaurant as she ponders the veal piccata, "they may be out of it."
Charles Jones is a spunky Orin, a deaf but lip-reading political militant, and Jonathan Lee has come up with serviceable, clever staging for this no-frills show. CHILDREN OF A LESSER GOD -- At the Warner through February 13.