TRIBES! - 716 Welcome Article!

Posted: March 7th, 2022


Tribes is a powerful drama by Nina Raine that explores how different types of communication affect how people perceive each other and the world at large.

by Ann Marie Cusella

Tribes is at Road Less Traveled Theater this March!

Find Your Tribe

Tribes is a powerful drama by Nina Raine that explores how different types of communication affect how people perceive each other and the world at large, and how the world perceives them. Verbal and sign language and the beliefs about them form the crucible in which a family and a young woman are tested and put to the fire. As the play unfolds, we learn how they will be transformed and what the consequences are for all of them.

The play is also a learning experience for people unfamiliar with deaf culture and the hierarchy within it. It does not preach, but organically provides information as the family and young woman come to terms with life changes. Tribes is also darkly humorous, daring the audience to laugh as members of the family toss insults at each other and their society. This could devolve into tedium in less adept hands, but Ms. Raine and Director Doug Szchiegner and his excellent cast are very much up to the task of entertaining as well as informing.

Tribes is playing until March 27th, 2022.

Unhappy in Their Own Way

Billy, played by Dave Wantuck in his first professional role, is a deaf from birth young man just returned from college to live with his very wounded hearing family. They raised him to read lips and speak but did not allow him to learn sign language so he would not appear handicapped. Sylvia, (Melinda Capeles) who appears midway through Act One, is a young woman from a deaf family who is slowly going deaf herself. She is an expert in sign language but cannot yet read lips. They meet at an art exhibit and form a friendship and then a romance that changes the dynamics of Billy’s family and all of their lives.

In the first sentence of his novel Anna Karenina, Leo Tolstoy famously wrote “Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.” Billy’s family certainly is unhappy in its own way, and it is their own unique unhappiness that drives this family to be mean to each other in painful and damaging ways. The father, Christopher (David Marciniak), is a narcissist who is cruel to his children in his demand they all conform to his belief that conforming to society’s mores is for the lesser folk, and holds the belief that people cannot have feelings if they do not have words. Apparently, even though his milieu is language, he was never informed that a multitude of studies have shown that the non-verbal is between 70-93% of communication. The mother, Beth (Margaret Massman), is an aspiring writer and the family peacekeeper. The son, Daniel (Johnny Barden), is what psychologists would call the “identified patient”, the child who carries the burden of the family’s woes. The daughter Ruth (Anna Krempholtz), longs to be an opera singer but like her brother has returned to the nest after failing to thrive in the outside world. Billy is the linchpin that has kept his family from going completely off the rails. His awakening to the deaf community and to love are the catalysts that derail what remained of Daniel’s sanity and cause the family to re-evaluate themselves.

Tribes is a window into the deaf community.

A Thought Provoking Drama

Dave Wantuck and Melinda Capeles are excellent as the young couple. He expresses years of pent-up emotions in a heartfelt and heartbreaking manner in a scene in which he speaks not a word. She expresses the pain and rage of a woman on the verge of a life-altering loss that again is heartbreaking. In addition, each bring sensuality, charm, and humor to their roles as their romance heats up.

As the increasingly disturbed son, Johnny Barden moves the audience from annoyance at his sarcasm and tantrums to pathos as his overwrought mind slowly decompensates. David Marciniak expertly blusters and bloviates, bloviates and blusters in diatribe after diatribe about Northerners (the play takes place in present day London), conformists, words, his wife wearing a kimono, and whatever else pops into his mind. Anna Krempholtz is sweet and sad as the disappointed Ruth but holds her own with her rageful brother. Margaret Massman has the rather thankless task as the mom trying to keep peace. She handles it with aplomb. All have great timing, and the two hours moves along quickly with the often difficult material.

Lynne Koscielniack designed a set that looks and feels like a home that has been lived in for many years, with some furniture dating from the 1940s and tchotchkes everywhere. Overhead screens light up with words being signed, and sounds are used to denote levels of hearing courtesy of Katie Menke and John Rickus.

While the ending seems a bit quick and forced in its optimism, it takes very little away from all that went before in this very thought-provoking drama.

This is a fine production and one well worth seeing.

Tags: Community News 2022

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