THEATER REVIEW: “Tribes” @ Barrington Stage Co. [Berkshire on Stage]
Review by Macey Levin
For the deaf, there are four divisions: those born deaf, those who lose their hearing, those who lip read and those who use sign language. Playwright Nina Raines calls them, and other groups, “tribes” in the play of that same name currently at Barrington Stage Company’s Boyd-Quinson Main Stage in Pittsfield.
Tribes is an intriguing play with some flaws. The first scenes introduce a highly dysfunctional North London family. The patriarch, Christopher (C. David Johnson) a self-involved former teacher turned writer, tries to rule his conflicted family with an iron hand and injurious comments. His wife Beth (Deirdre Madigan) argues with him and their two oldest children, who have recently returned to live at home, at the least provocation. Daniel (Miles G. Jackson) is a schizophrenic who has been rejected by a young woman his family abhorred. The daughter Ruth (Justine Salata), a depressive, believes she is an opera singer with an outstanding future. The youngest son Billy (Joshua Castille) attempts to ameliorate the conflicts with measured success. He has learned to speak by lip-reading his family and the guidance of his mother. Christopher feels that if Billy signs there will be a stigma covering his son. He declares, the deaf “…are the Muslims of the handicapped world.”
Into Billy’s life comes Sylvia (Eli Pauley), the child of deaf parents with whom she signs; she tells him she is slowly losing her hearing. Their initially tenuous relationship moves into a love affair; she helps him get his first ever job as a lip reader for the courts when videotapes do not have audio. When he brings Sylvia home to meet the family, she is subjected to an inquisition led by Christopher, especially when he learns she signs. Various confrontations soon develop between Billy and the family as well as with Sylvia.