Deafness gets a nuanced hearing in Nina Raine's rich and rewarding family drama.
Mon Mar 5 2012
Photograph: Gregory Costanzo
Time Out Ratings :<strong>Rating: </strong>4/5
Short reviews seldom permit mention of sound design, but no discussion of Tribes would be complete without a nod to Daniel Kluger's exquisite aural landscape. The physical elements of David Cromer's in-the-round production at the Barrow Street Theatre are all top-shelf (starting with Scott Pask's impeccably specific set), but sound plays an especially important role, because Nina Raine's domestic drama is centrally concerned with cacophony.
Tribes' hearing-impaired main character, Billy (played with variety and sensitivity by deaf actor Harvard), belongs to a family that has deliberately refused to accommodate his disability. The racket is everywhere: in the din of the family dinner table, where confrontation is treated as a measure of interest and affection; in the accusatory voices heard by Billy's brother, Daniel—played by Will Brill, shaky of body and, less felicitously, of accent—in the bloom of schizophrenia; and in the growing roar experienced by Billy's new friend Sylvia (the excellent Pourfar, flirty yet flinty) as she slides into hearing loss. ("No one told me it was going to be this noisy going deaf," she complains.)
Jeff Perry carps admirably as Billy's acidulous father, and the soulful Mare Winningham rises to the task of balancing him; Gayle Rankin is also utterly persuasive as Billy's sister, a would-be opera singer who doesn't seem to have stopped to hear herself sing. Raine's capacious writing explores issues of communication, self-expression and individuation with a wonderful ear for detail. Even under Cromer's alert and clear-eyed direction, Tribes loses some steam as it builds to its finale. But there are moments in this play that I don't think I will ever forget—scenes that tap the beauty that can live and resound in silence.