BWW Review: Red Turnip Theater Stages Nina Raine's TRIBES

BWW Review: Red Turnip Theater Stages Nina Raine's TRIBESManila, Philippines--In its fourth year, theater company Red Turnip Theater, via Nina Raine's comedy-drama "Tribes," has proven time and again its top-notch quality.

Billy (Kalil Almonte), who was born deaf, is raised by parents Christopher (Teroy Guzman), an intellectual, demanding father, and Beth (Dolly De Leon), a smart yet understanding mother.

In a tough, dysfunctional family, Billy grew up with siblings Daniel (Cris Pasturan), a marijuana-dependent, and Ruth (Thea Yrastorza), an opera singer in pubs and churches.

"Tribes," which is directed by Topper Fabregas ("Rabbit Hole," "This is Our Youth") theater-in-the-round style, succeeds in piercing the hearts of the audience by presenting the vulnerabilities and idiosyncrasies of its characters.

Fabregas perfectly casts Almonte to tackle the most challenging role in the play: a deaf young man who has been lipreading and was never allowed by his parents to do sign language. His parents believe that he'll be able to do better this way in the hearing world.

Almonte effectively breathes life into the "confused" character of Billy. He's been able to paint his own reality that there's indeed a barrier separating him from his family. And that's even more evident when he tries to ask his parents or siblings what he has just missed, for instance, which only earned half-baked explanations or left unanswered.

Eventually, Billy finds an ally in Sylvia (Angel Padilla). The actress is able to complement Almonte, especially in the dramatic moments in the play. In their struggles as individuals or as a couple, the audience can easily relate to their yearnings, heartaches, and disappointments as people with disabilities.

Set designer Ed Lacson Jr., on the other hand, succeeds in allowing the audience not just to eavesdrop but also to "somehow" experience first-hand what the characters are going through and get to notice every minute detail in Billy's household. The director's blockings, set against Lacson's theater-in-the-round set, establish well the hidden subtexts, especially with the scenes involving Billy's siblings, Daniel and Ruth.

The dining area set where Billy's family members get to exchange their intimate thoughts is a mere representation of how they can be respectful at the same time throw banter at each other. Even when each family member leaves the dining table and continues with their sarcastic arguments, at any angle, one can experience what Billy truly feels--inconsolable isolation in his own world.

What's even more remarkable about the play is the unconventional use of visual projection that stresses the actors' subtexts by juxtapositioning spoken or inner dialogues with visuals, i.e. the scene where Billy's mother, Beth, explores her inner dialogue when asked, "Why isn't Billy saying anything?"

Also in the play, each character paints their own personal convictions, which makes things even more dynamic. Billy's dad, Christopher, being a writer, believes that one should "put feelings into words so that the beholder would know how to feel them," which is starkly opposed to his wife, Beth, who'd rather think that "art speaks for itself via the feelings it evokes." Billy's brother, Daniel, on the other hand, believes that "language doesn't determine meaning" while their sister, Ruth, expresses her feelings through singing. Lastly, Sylvia, who has this fear of being into two worlds and going deaf, wonders why Billy is always willing to go the extra mile to understand his family rather than paving the way for them.

"Tribes" is a meaningful reflection of how love is powerful over anything, any emotion or perception. In the absence of audible words, even if its characters struggle to truly express themselves, love floats.

Drama Desk Awards' Outstanding Play "Tribes" runs its last weekend at Power Mac Center Spotlight from this Friday, September 2, until Sunday, September 4. For tickets, visit

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From This Author Jude Cartalaba

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