BWW REVIEW: 'TRIBES' SPEAKS VOLUMES AT BOSTON'S SPEAKEASY STAGE
Written by Nina Raine; directed by M. Bevin O'Gara; scenic design by Christina Todesco; costume design by Mary Lauve; lighting design by Annie Wiegand; sound design by Arshan Gailus; projection design by Garrett Herzig; production stage manager, Adele Nadine Traub
Cast in order of Speaking:
Performances and Tickets:
Now through October 19, with an added ASL performance on Sunday, October 13 at 3 p.m.; SpeakEasy Stage Company, Roberts Studio Theatre, Boston Center for the Arts, 527 Tremont Street, Boston; tickets are $25-$60 ($5 discount for seniors), available online at www.BostonTheatreScene.com or by calling the Box Office at 617-933-8600
And in the naked light I saw
Ten thousand people, maybe more
People talking without speaking
People hearing without listening
People writing songs that voices never share
And no one dared
Disturb the sound of silence
-- from "The Sounds of Silence" by Simon and GarfunkelThere's more to listening than hearing, and more to speaking than talking in SpeakEasy Stage Company's moving production of Tribes running now through October 19 at the Boston Center for the Arts. In this beautifully crafted play by Nina Raine directed with exceptional grace by M. Bevin O'Gara, both sounds and silence are used evocatively to dramatize the isolation caused by deafness and dysfunctional communication.
In Tribes Billy (James Caverly) is a sweet young man who was born deaf into a family of chattering academics. His father, mother and brother are all writers of one sort or another, and his sister aspires to sing opera. Although their professions each seem to suggest that language and self-expression are essential to them, they use words cruelly, like intellectual weapons. They harangue but they don't connect.Billy's older brother Daniel (Nael Nacer) spews toxic sarcasm toward everyone in the family except Billy. Sister Ruth (Kathryn Myles) denigrates herself constantly - that is, when she's not taunting Daniel for being an equally big loser. Parents Christopher (Patrick Shea) and Beth (Adrianne Krstansky) endlessly debate, bicker, and deride. Dad also heaps a continuous stream of expletives on the troubled Daniel while Mom amiably tries to placate and deflect with humor.
The family's endless garble of overlapping conversations and rapid-fire repartee makes Billy's deafness all the more challenging to him. Raised to "assimilate" by reading lips and speaking orally, he can only follow what he can see. It doesn't help that his family blithely ignores him whenever they go off on a tirade. Even when Billy asks what has gotten them so obviously upset, they dismiss him with a cursive, "It's nothing. It's not important."
Billy eventually turns the tables on his family when he meets and begins to date Sylvia (Erica Spyres), a woman born hearing to deaf parents but now going deaf herself. Sylvia teaches Billy American Sign Language, and as he becomes more and more proficient, he decides he will no longer read lips or speak. At last he has found a way to give full expression to his thoughts and feelings, and unless his family now learns his language, they will find themselves on the outside looking in on him.As Billy, James Caverly avoids the trap of being heroically disabled. He is neither martyr nor magician, and his portrayal of the person the family admittedly "loves the most" is endearing but unsentimental. Caverly, a graduate of Gallaudet University and an alumnus of The National Theatre of the Deaf, draws the audience into his world by seeming to absorb every interaction into his body. His eyes watch every move attentively and strain to capture and understand. When he finally unleashes his voice through a combination of oral speech and animated sign, he does so with a torrent of pent-up emotion.