On Dec. 15, 2007, Dan Williams flatlined in an ambulance after suffering a severe heart attack. He saw a white light, heard strange voices and witnessed unusual creatures. Then he woke up.

“The paramedics told me I had died and they had to use a defibrillator to bring me back,” said Williams, 65.

Later, when he was recovering from the experience, a friend told him the reason he lived was because “your work is not complete.”

As Williams contemplated this remark, he realized he did have something left to do. That something is the one-man show “Can U Here Me Know,” which he’ll perform Sunday at Lucid Stage in Portland.

The show, described as “a gay man’s journey in deaf culture and this crazy thing called life,” uses music and personal stories to relate incidents from Williams’ life.

Williams grew up in South Gardiner, where as a teen in the ’50s and ’60s, he faced bullying due to his sexual orientation.

“I was shunned by the teenagers in my town when they found out my secrets,” he said.

At 16, he attempted suicide. A year later, he was sexually assaulted by a married man. Things did improve for Williams as he got older and moved out of state, but he continued to struggle with depression.

The show’s nod to deaf culture reflects the work Williams did for 30 years as an American Sign Language interpreter. He’s now retired.

The title is a play on the abbreviated words and misspellings that are common in text messages sent by deaf people, and an interpreter will be on stage signing throughout the show.

Williams first performed the show in 2008, and has since presented it around the state eight times. Sunday’s show will be his first performance in Portland.

Music forms a central part of the performance, and Williams will sing 12 songs during the show. These include “One Prayer” by Karl Anthony, which deals with bullying, and more popular tunes such as “New York, New York” and “The Greatest Love of All” by Whitney Houston.

“In each song, there’s something in there that’s connected to my life,” Williams said, adding that he uses the songs to segue into different stories from his past.

Williams doesn’t work from a script, but rather relates his stories a little differently each time.

“I’m constantly changing some things,” he said. “It’s still a work in process.”

Williams has been surprised by the audience reaction to the show, which he characterizes as overwhelmingly positive.

“I’m supposed to be telling my story on stage to be ridiculed and torn apart,” Williams said, “and the negativity is not happening.”

Instead, he’s received standing ovations after every performance, except for the one he did at Colby College, where he feels the music might have been too old-fashioned for the audience.

The show also includes audience participation, and those who attend should expect to learn some sign language and to dance.

Williams has recovered from his heart attack, and is taking medication to keep his cholesterol levels in check.

He said the show has helped him realize “you can move on and do something productive” despite living through traumatic events.

Williams said the most important message of the show surrounds the healing power that comes from forgiving those who’ve wronged us.

“Forgiveness is a big thing and it’s hard to do, but it can be done,” he said.

Staff Writer Avery Yale Kamila can be contacted at 791-6297 or at:

[email protected]

Twitter: AveryYaleKamila




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