Presented by Speakeasy Stage Co.
by Nina Raine
directed by M. Bevin O’Gara
There will be two ASL-interpreted performances: Sunday, October 6 at 7PM and Friday, October 11 at 8PM.
Review by Kitty Drexel
(Southie) It is always a relief to see minorities portrayed by the Arts as their community deserves; with dignity, love and respect. We, the disabled, weren’t/aren’t always seen this way. It was (and still is) a commonly held belief of the Christian persuasion that people were born disabled as a punishment from God for sinning. This is despite Jesus saying that the disabled were walking, talking acts of God (John Chapter 9 verses 1-3). In specific, Christians used to believe that, since a deaf person couldn’t hear the word of God, they then couldn’t know God. Fast forward to modern day, the stigmas still exist even with the ADA protecting us. This is why it was so humbling to watch Speakeasy’s intelligent production of Tribes last Saturday. My hope is that this production is a sign that society is ready to welcome the disabled into the mainstream.
Bigoted patriarch, Christopher (Patrick Shea) commands his family to toe the line with expletives and rude exclamations in the name of intellectual pursuits. They are a bonded group that only shows their emotions through bickering. They are the kind of family that can’t even agree without first arguing about why they agree. Billy (James Caverly) is the silent witness to their expostulations. He is deaf. His family has convinced him that he doesn’t need to be a part of the deaf community. Yet, they neither explain nor slow down their blustering to incorporate him into the conversation. This is how they live their lives until Billy meets Sylvia (Erica Spyres) at an art exhibit. She teaches Billy to sign and that he holds the potential to be more than what his family expects of him.
Nina Raine’s script swiftly and skillfully nails one of the largest issues the disabled community faces: exclusion for our own good. The family dynamic stresses the importance of discussion over listening. Billy’s family uses a popular cop out to convince him that he doesn’t need to learn sign or enter the deaf community; they tell him he’s better than other deaf people. He isn’t like the rest of them. He can talk! He went to college! He has “normal” friends! These excuses cover for the fact that they take his disability personally. Billy is told over and again that he is loved but the family’s actions prove that they prefer to ignore him rather than take his situation into consideration.
Raine also draws comparisons between mental health, homosexuality and disability. The family contemplates Billy’s “coming out” as deaf. Daniel (Nael Nacer, it’s a pleasure to review you again) suffers from voices that yell louder than he does. His state is treated with the sobriety it deserves but the family walks all over Billy. It’s only Sylvia that is able to persuade the family that Billy deserves respect. Respect for the disabled doesn’t mean treating them like they aren’t disabled. It means granting them the same autonomy for their needs as one would the fully abled.
Marlee Matlin made a splash in the 80’s with Children of a Lesser God. She stars opposite William Hurt as a deaf custodian who falls in love with a hearing teacher in a school for the deaf. Anyone who’s seen the film (or on The L Word) can testify that Matlin is an excellent actress – not despite being deaf, not because she is deaf but because she has talent and can empathize with human suffering. One does not need the ability to hear to do this. The same must be said for Tribes lead, James Caverly. Whether he’s speaking or signing, he is excellent in the role of Billy. I hope to see him on more Boston-area stages.
Sound and set are successfully designed to entertain all types audience members. Tribes is performed in-the-round so the actions on stage can be observed from any angle. There are super-titles hung above the set for the music and signing. I look forward to seeing if Speakeasy is as dedicated to their other audiences are the are this one.