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BWW Reviews: TRIBES - Everyman Theatre Makes Theatre Accessible to the Deaf and Hard-Of-Hearing Communities

Everyman Theatre's last production of the season is TRIBES by British playwright Nina Raine. It concerns Billy a young man who has been deaf since birth. John McGinty, a Washington DC-based deaf actor, is brilliant in the role. Megan Anderson plays his love interest Sylvia who is on the cusp of deafness and has learned sign language. (Anderson deserves kudos for not only learning how to sign over a six month period but also learning how to play the piano.) She convinces Billy to learn sign language. Billy was brought up learning to read lips and not encouraged by his family to learn how to sign. During Act I Billy seems lost when with his family. They do not always speak AT him so he could read lips. Thus he misses much of the dialogue. It is only in Act II, when he switches to the use of sign language that he expresses his desire for the family to attempt to learn to communicate in this manner but his request is not met with much understanding.

Leave it to Everyman Theatre's Artistic Director Vince Lancisi to bring state of the art technology to theater patrons. Everyman has become one of the first theaters in the country to offer the use of personal handheld closed captioning devices for every performance for every play they will produce. This not only will open the theater to the deaf community but also to those in the audience who are hard-of-hearing. No longer will patrons have to wait to see a show when there are sign language interpreters. They can go at ANY time. What a remarkable achievement. The theater is also offering a complimentary adjustable seat-mount to hold the iPod comfortably in front of the patron's seat so they don't have to hold it themselves throughout the show. Special filter screens have been installed on the devices so that those sitting nearby will not see the light from iPod's screen. For a special behind-the scenes video that includes a demonstration of the captioning device, visit

ASL interpretations will be included at the Thursday, June 17 performance at 7:30 p.m.

Captioning will be available on Sunday, June 15 at 2 p.m. and Tuesday, June 17 at 7:30 p.m.

Billy's parents are played by the terrific Deborah Hazlett (Beth) and the always enjoyable James Whalen (Christopher). Playing Billy's siblings are Annie Grier (Ruth) and Alexander Strain (Daniel).

I recall the wonderful play CHILDREN OF A LESSER GOD which dealt with a similar issue. I had some problems with TRIBES. First, the family is labeled Jewish but it seems for no apparent reason. Is the playwright portraying Jewish families as intellectual and chaotic?

I also could not understand that Billy in Act I did not insist that his family did not look at him when speaking. This did not make any sense. The playwright made it quite clear that Billy was totally lost.

It was also quite surprising that brother Daniel when he hears of Billy's request to the family to learn sign language becomes a stutterer.

While I had problems with the play, I have to applaud Director Lancisi for doing a brilliant job. While some of the dialogue in Act I was machine-gun style, the actors were all superb. I may in fact be tempted to try the "new" technology in the future.

TRIBES runs until June 22. For tickets call410-752-2208 or visit


Photo Credit: Stan Barouh

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