‘Not So Quiet Nocturne’ a first-rate gem from Visionaries of the Creative Arts

This heartbreaking story of a young Black Deaf woman living with AIDS in the 1990s is not to be missed.

A Not So Quiet Nocturne begins with the sounds of Frederic Chopin’s Nocturne No. 7 in C sharp minor, Op. 27. Charlyn, played by DeafBlind actress Ashlea Hayes, is a Black Deaf woman. She lies on a hospital gurney, dreaming. We see the 10-year-old Charlyn (actress Zalika Jefferson, who is Deaf) as she changes TV channels from The Honeymooners to Mary Tyler Moore to The Dick Van Dyke Show. She is wearing hearing aids in both ears. At one moment, she seems to be dancing. At another, she takes off her hearing aids. The sound disappears.

This lovely image of Charlyn as she watches her younger self captures the appeal of this gem of a revival, which premiered over 25 years ago at NYC’s Vineyard Theatre. The dramaturg was Tony Kushner and Michelle Banks played Charlyn.

Ashlea Hayes (Charlyn) and Deimoni Brewington (Danny) in ‘A Not So Quiet Nocturne.’ Photo by Andrew Robertson.

Today, Banks is Co-Founder and Artistic Director of the nonprofit Visionaries of the Creative Arts (VOCA), producer of the current version. VOCA is dedicated to amplifying the voices of Deaf, DeafBlind, and Hard of Hearing (HoH) BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, and People of Color) artists. The director is Alexandria Wailes, who is also an actor and choreographer. She was the director of artistic sign language for Goodspeed and Signature Theatre’s recent co-production of Private Jones.

It is New York City in the mid-1990s. Charlyn (Ashlea Hayes, with Sophia Early as Charlyn’s Voice) has contracted AIDS from her drug-addicted husband. Their daughter, Catherine, lived for only three weeks.

Playwright Dr. Jaye Austin Williams, associate professor of Critical Black Studies at Bucknell University, writes:

While Black folks have achieved much and made many inroads into mainstream society across the years, disproportionate Black death rages in, a seemingly timeless “plague”. And Black Deaf people are further compromised because of the complication their deafness poses to their blackness.

Zalika Jefferson (Young Charlyn), Nicole Morgan (Lelia), and  Ashlea Hayes (Charlyn) in ‘A Not So Quiet Nocturne.’ Photo by Andrew Robertson.

Charlyn’s mother, Lelia (Nicole Morgan), plays music for Young Charlyn, “her hands painting calm seas in rolling water falls, and then a big, full heart on her chest.” Their loving relationship is one highlight; another is the volatile connection between Charlyn and her wayward husband Danny (Deimoni Brewington). Charlyn has a sympathetic Counselor, well played by Pauline Dunn. Their scenes reveal feelings Charlyn spends much of the play attempting to hide.

The AIDS doctors are a study in contrasts. The Doctor (Connor Scanlan) is breathtakingly insensitive. The compassionate Dr. Avery (Edie Backman) continues to care for Charlyn despite the mistaken cancellation of her Medicaid coverage. Both skillfully embody the virtues and vices of the medical establishment.

Charlyn, Lelia, Dr. Avery, and the Counselor make a valiant effort to preserve human bonds despite recurring obstacles. The men, although they attempt to reach out at times, tend to be more self-centered and combative.

Brewington’s Danny fails to warn Charlyn of his diagnosis. Her brother Terrell (JaRon Gilchrist) ends up in jail. He and his resentful son Shalil (Sa’Man Banks) are perennially at each other’s throats. Shalil and his homeboys Bobby-Mack (Christopher Atchison) and Trey (Tariq Timberlake) are into drugs and “bitches,” although they have moments of sincerity.

BOBBY-MACK: Shh! Man, shut the fuck up. You act like you ain’t had no kind of upbringing.
TREY: Oh, fuck you, man.
SHALIL: What upbringing got to do with it? Shit. Parents can fuck your shit up worse than anything, man.

Sa’Man Banks (Shalil), Christopher Atchison (Bobby-Mack), and Tariq Timberlake (Trey) in ‘A Not So Quiet Nocturne.’ Photo by Andrew Robertson.

Much of the language is spectacularly poetic. Here is Charlyn talking about Danny:

CHARLYN: That’s what I loved about Danny. He was at peace in the middle of a war zone. He was definitely a casualty. But in the meantime, he ducked the bullets as long as he could. That someone could do that so gracefully, excited me. And when he stood in front of me, it was like being paralyzed by fearlessness — seeing it at its barest, most effortless.

And here she is talking to her dead daughter, Catherine:

CHARLYN: We’d all taken a drive up to Bear Mountain in late October not long before your grandfather died. I was eight years old that first trip. The leaves were loud with color. Your grandmother turned my little face to her and said, “That’s what a chorus of voices sounds like — all of them different, yet all of them needing each other.” That’s when I fell in love with music, though I’d never heard it. “That’s your music,” she told me. “The leaves are doing a recital just for you.” We made that drive to Bear Mountain every year for a few years after that, with Terrell and your Grandmother, so the leaves could sing for me.

The scenic design, by Jonathan Mesich, is attractive and extremely versatile. Settings range from a hospital to a prison to Charlyn’s childhood home. The music, from Chopin to Billie Holliday to Tupac, is powerfully evocative. (Sound design is by Justin Schmitz.) Lighting is by Jourdan Holden; costumes are by Ronnie Bradley.

Special mention is due to Filmmaker/Videographer Andrew St.Cyr and Projection Designer Andrea Vigil. The projections, on a large digital screen, whether of trees, text, or photographs, are simply stunning.

As the playwright notes,

Black deafness—“nocturnal” deafness, if you will—must straddle the impossible gap between cultural “belonging” (Black, Deaf identity) and the isolation wrought of both the expressed and unexpressed global antagonism toward blackness overall.

Despite the realities of heartbreak and oppression, there is joy too in this first-rate production. A Not So Quiet Nocturne is not to be missed.

Running Time: 90 minutes without an intermission.

The production is performed in American Sign Language (ASL) and spoken English with captioning.

A Not So Quiet Nocturne plays through April 21, 2024, presented Visionaries of the Creative Arts (VOCA) performing in the Lang Theater at Atlas Performing Arts Center, 1333 H St NE, Washington, DC. Tickets ($40, general; $35, seniors; $30, students) are available online through Atlas Theater’s Box Office. For more information about VOCA, visit their website.

A Not So Quiet Nocturne
By Jaye Austin Williams
Directed by Alexandria Wailes

Ashlea Hayes (DeafBlind): Charlyn
Sa’Man Banks: Shalil
JaRon Gilchrist: Terrell
Deimoni Brewington: Danny
Sophia Early: Charlyn’s Voice
Nicole Morgan: Lelia
Zalika Jefferson (Deaf): Young Charlyn
Trina Redmond: Interpreter
Pauline Dunn: Counselor
Christopher Atchison: Bobby-Mack
Tariq Timberlake: Trey
Edie Backman: Dr. Avery
Connor Scanlan: Doctor

Producer: Michelle Banks
Production Manager: Bethany Slater
Assistant Director: Ashley Mapley-Brittle
Assistant Stage Manager: Amelia Hensley
Stage Manager: Fatimah Abdul-Rahim
Director of Artistic Sign Language: Rosa Lee Timm
Costume Designer: Ronnie Bradley
Sound Designer: Justin Schmitz
Lighting Designer: Jourden Holden
Scenic Designer: Jonathan Mesich
Projection Designer: Andrea Vigil
Videographer: Andrew St.Cyr

Visionaries of the Creative Arts (VOCA) to present ‘A Not So Quiet Nocturne’ (news story, March 20, 2024)

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Sophia Howes
Sophia Howes has been a reviewer for DCTA since 2013 and a columnist since 2015. She has an extensive background in theater. Her play Southern Girl was performed at the Public Theater-NY, and two of her plays, Rosetta’s Eyes and Solace in Gondal, were produced at the Playwrights’ Horizons Studio Theatre. She studied with Curt Dempster at the Ensemble Studio Theatre, where her play Madonna was given a staged reading at the Octoberfest. Her one-acts Better Dresses and The Endless Sky, among others, were produced as part of Director Robert Moss’s Workshop-NY. She has directed The Tempest, at the Hazel Ruby McQuain Amphitheatre, and Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? at the Monongalia Arts Center, both in Morgantown, WV. She studied Classics and English at Barnard and received her BFA with honors in Drama from Tisch School of the Arts, NYU, where she received the Seidman Award for playwriting. Her play Adamov was produced at the Harold Clurman Theater on Theater Row-NY. She holds an MFA from Tisch School of the Arts, NYU, where she received the Lucille Lortel Award for playwriting. She studied with, among others, Michael Feingold, Len Jenkin, Lynne Alvarez, and Tina Howe.


  1. Wow! That was a lovely and encouraging review. The context for the development of this piece was enlightening. Tony Kushner as dramaturg?!


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