The Ears Have It!


First there were Van Gogh’s ears, one of which went bye-bye.

Then there were Spock’s ears — on Leonard Nimoy’s famous Vulcan character in the original Star Trek.

And then there were my ears. Which are largely dysfunctional — except for the hearing aids.

Soon, all three sets of ears will come together in an extraordinary theatrical experience — Vincent, a full-length two-act one-man show, at the Community House in Hamilton, July 13-16.

Here’s a rundown on the pairs of ears in question:

  1. Vincent Van Gogh has fascinated people for well over a century, not only because of his artistic masterpieces, but because of his wild rollercoaster of a life — and death.
  2. Leonard Nimoy, not only an actor but also a gifted artist and playwright, was transfixed by Van Gogh decades ago. He devoted himself to researching the artist, waded through Van Gogh’s voluminous correspondence — and ended up writing a beautiful play, which Nimoy himself performed 150 times across the country (sans pointy ears).
  3. The hearing-impaired Doug Brendel (that’s me) will perform the play this summer, portraying Van Gogh, Van Gogh’s brother, and a number of other characters in the artist’s colorful life. Tickets are available at

Many of my friends don’t even realize I’m hearing-impaired. But the truth is, without the little machines in my ears, I can’t really function.

I began losing my hearing nearly a decade ago. Since my father gradually lost his hearing, my wife and I agreed that we would monitor my auditory capacity — would my DNA follow his? — and we would take action if and/or when needed. “If and/or when needed” turned out to be about the time we moved to Ipswich. (Thanks, Dad.)

With the help of the friendly yet professional Dr. Steve Brauninger at Cummings Center, I was fitted with a couple amazing little devices that “hear” for me. In fact, I’m so high-tech that even if you mute the TV at my house, I can turn it up in my head and listen comfortably.

In the olden days, there was a stigma about hearing loss. People equated hearing impairment with lack of intelligence (when in reality, deaf people can be smart or dumb, and hearing people can be dumb or smart). So hearing aids were designed to be hidden as much as possible. However, they could actually be only as small as the technology allowed, which wasn’t too small at all.

These days, there’s less of a stigma — people who discover that I’m hearing-impaired don’t generally seem to treat me as if I’m any dumber than I really am. But technology has advanced so dramatically that my hearing aids are truly tiny. It’s a challenge to get my fat fingers to open the miniature door to replace the ultra-teeny battery: Imagine slicing a pea into thirds; the middle slice is the battery. The speaker that fits in my ear is like a splinter of dry vermicelli. And twice a month, when I have to replace the plastic dome that fits over the speaker and secures it in my ear canal, it’s like doing brain surgery on a mosquito.

Still, I’m not complaining. It’s better than being deaf. “Huh?” I said, it’s better than being deaf.

Acting onstage wearing hearing aids is no different from relying on your actual ears, if the equipment you’re relying on works right. I remember years of amateur acting gigs before my ears gave out, and I can honestly say, the acting part is no different now than it was then. But if my hearing aids aren’t working right, it gets tricky.

This past winter I had the honor of playing the lead male role in Blithe Spirit with Castle Hill Productions at the Crane Estate’s Great House, and my original hearing aids were approaching the end of their natural life. (Hearing aids typically last about seven years before those tiny tweeters and woofers give out and have to be replaced.) When you’re onstage, you’re always listening for another actor to give you your cue, but my hearing aids were dying. So if the other actor (a) needed to be speaking softly, or (b) happened to be facing away from me — or, heaven forbid, both (a) and (b) — I had no idea when to start my next line. At one point in Blithe Spirit rehearsals, I was reduced to asking the formidable actress Jamie Clavet to change her blocking and say her line in my direction — or else speak the heck up. It was one of those times when you hate being deaf, because you have no choice but to ask someone to accommodate your disability.

Shortly after Blithe Spirit closed, I got a new (and advanced) pair of hearing aids, and now I hear better than you do. These remarkable contraptions automatically sense the environment (noisy restaurant? quiet theatre?) and adjust my hearing accordingly, based on eight different logarithms, or algorithms, or whatever they are, I honestly don’t know; I flunked geometry.

So here I am: the guy with bad ears, playing the guy with one ear, scripted by the guy with pointy ears. I hope you see the show. I’m pretty sure you’ll hear the show. The Community House has great acoustics.



Doug Brendel lives in a quiet neighborhood on outer Linebrook Road. Huh? I said, Doug Brendel lives in a quiet neighborhood on outer Linebrook Road! Follow his irreverent commentary by clicking “Follow.”




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