Saturday, February 25, 2012

Tribes ****

Please click on the title to see the entire review.
Director David Cromer, whose production of Our Town at Barrow Street Theatre was so widely acclaimed, is back with an Olivier-nominated family drama by Nina Raine about deafness and language. Billy (Russell Harvard), the deaf youngest child of an intellectual family headed by retired academic Christopher (Jeff Perry) and would-be novelist Beth (Mare Winningham), is a very skilled lip-reader, but was deliberately never taught sign language. His seriously depressed brother Daniel (Will Brill) is writing a dissertation on the inadequacy of language. His sister Ruth (Gayle Rankin) is an unsuccessful opera singer. His self-absorbed parents and siblings may hear, but they don't listen. Billy's feeling of isolation when he is left out of their intellectual battles goes unnoticed. When he falls in love with Sylvia (Susan Pourfar), a young woman active in the deaf community who is herself going deaf and who teaches him sign language, Billy's feelings toward his family change dramatically. A subplot about him working for the court system reading lips from surveillance videos misfires. The cast is uniformly excellent. The set by Scott Pask makes good use of the limited space. Staging the play in the round (in the square, actually) works quite well. The play presents interesting arguments about whether embracing deaf culture is liberating or limiting. It is far from perfect, but it is thought-provoking and deeply felt. It's not for everyone, but I was glad I saw it. Running time: 2 hours, 15 minutes including intermission.

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