Chaos Attraction

Tribes Review

2014-09-18, 10:05 p.m.

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On Thursday (since I had the night off), I went to see the play Tribes. It was a stunning review and the play itself was freaking awesome. I've always been kinda obsessed with American Sign Language even though I eventually gave up on trying to learn it, so anything involving that excited me.

The show features an argumentative English family where all the adult kids are living at home and everyone is getting into arguments. There's a lot of British swearing and yelling of "cunt!" and the like and I deeply enjoy that. (Here's an interesting interview with the playwright about putting it together, including mentioning the swearing. ) Everyone is screaming...except for Billy, who's eating his dinner. This is because Billy was born deaf and his family doesn't put a whole lot of effort into explaining much of the fighting to him. His parents (though it sounds far more like it was his dad) didn't learn sign language, and Billy never was taught it, and all he can do is lipread.

Then Billy meets and starts dating Sylvia. Sylvia was a hearing child of deaf parents, but she inherited the family deafness coming on later in life and is losing her own hearing. She's very sad about it--music sounds like roaring, she doesn't get what people are saying,--but nobody around her gets that. She teaches Billy sign language* and introduces him around to the people she knows, and he is going through the 'honeymoon period." But Sylvia is getting sick of the deaf hierarchy (and people not getting why she's sad) and is leaning towards withdrawing.

* in the original play it's British Sign Language, which is a lot different from American. But not only did they do American here, they called in a consultant from the Sacramento area to get the DIALECT right.)

Billy introduces her to his family, who more or less do really like her in their own ah, special argumentative, kinda jerkass sort of way. And when Billy decides he's only going to communicate in ASL from now on so his relatives have to work to understand him instead of the other way around, Sylvia translates for him. However, his new job (reading lips on security videos for court trials) goes badly when he starts making up what he can't understand. And his brother Daniel is schizophrenic and dealing with unpleasant voices of his own and fear of losing his brother. Meanwhile, dad is so cold that he literally goes and puts on his headphones and grabs his laptop after a whopping argument. The mom and sister are the saner ones in the family, but are still trying to figure out their careers (mystery writing and opera singing), respectively, and how to handle relationships.

Out of context, I really want to mention the scene (when Sylvia meets the family!) in which the family is going on and snarking about some cousin of theirs who married someone ugly and the comment was that it must be like sticking your dick in a cement mixer to have sex with the woman. And Billy acts it out in slow, graphic, hilarious detail! It was great.

Everyone's really good in it, but I have to give special bonus props to the actor playing Daniel, who really had a hard job to do in this one. Wow. Amazing physicality on that guy in this role.

The play mostly ends open ended--you don't know how anyone's going to turn out--but it ends with familial love. They also had a cool Q&A session after the show, talking about how they set up the show and stage (the stage was literally propped up by books!) and how even the director would forget that the actor playing Billy couldn't hear and give instructions without his lips being visible. The actress playing Sylvia (who was heartbreaking and awesome) said she'd learned four years of ASL in high school and "that got me through the audition..." I also liked how someone in the audience made a comment about how the dad was abusing two kids, and the actress playing the sister REALLY PERKED UP and said, "WHICH TWO?!?!"

I also had another interesting experience while there: I ended up talking to a lady who is a speech therapist and had a good time talking to her before the show and during the intermission. We talked about deadbeat boyfriends, leaving her husband after 38 years and loving every minute of that, why I don't date (if you get lucky, you get lucky, I just don't happen to), work, sign language...It was fun. Yet another one of those "If I ever had any reason to see or talk to you again, I'd totally do it, but alas, we never will" moments.

Another piece by the author on why she wrote the play.

If you're in the area, I HIGHLY recommend seeing it.


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