Off Broadway provides an
opportunity to see new talent and explore unusual topics.
“Tribes,” a new play by Nina Raine, which was
originally commissioned and first presented by the English Stage Company at the
Roya lCourt Theatre in 2010, covers new ground. It asks the question: Is it
worse to be born hearing-impaired or suffer from this condition later in life?
In this theater in the
round or more particularly in the square, we meet a Bohemian –type family, who
are close and love to argue. The playwright seems to imply that their behavior
is tribal in nature. The parents are writers. There’s sarcastic, foul-mouthed,
rumpled dad, Christopher, who loves words, portrayed by Jeff Perry; there’s
hard-working mom, heartfelt Beth, played by the winning Mare Winningham, who in
a possible homage to “You Can’t Take It With You” is penning a marriage
breakdown murder mystery. Mom is chagrined that Dad is annoyed that their three
twenty-something children have moved back into the house.
Ruth, acted by Gayle
Rankin, who is trying out her opera singing in a local pub, is put down by her
brother Daniel, played intensely by Will Brill. But Daniel has his own
problems. He has broken up with his girlfriend, whom the family didn’t like and
he hears voices, a symptom of a bipolar condition. He is pursuing an academic
career, for which his father thinks he is unsuited.
While they scream at each
other around the well-worn kitchen table (Scott Pask), Billy, who is profoundly
hearing-impaired, is removed from the conversation. He has been brought up
reading lips, because his dad thought it was less limiting than “Signing.” When
Billy meets Sylvia, the lovely, perfectly–cast Susan Pourfar, who is
experiencing progressive and unrelenting hearing loss, he learns to sign and
threatens to leave his family if they don’t study and use this skill. They are
decimated by his ultimatum, for they love him. Russell Harvard’s fine
performance as the outsider, Billy, is remarkable.
David Cromer’s direction stresses the lack of
communication between the characters. At times, he uses sur- and subtitles
(Jeff Sugg), music and waves of sound ( Daniel Kruger) in this busy play.
Sometimes it feels too busy and frustrating because we could not hear
everything clearly. However “Tribes” is an interesting new play at the Barrow