Contributing Critic: St. Louis
Tribes’, written by Nina Raine, is about what makes a family and the importance in how we communicate with those we love. It follows ‘Billy’ who is deaf as he discovers the Deaf World and British Sign Language (BSL). His family is hearing, so he never experienced sign and read lips to communicate instead, as is the case with many deaf people born into hearing families. He meets ‘Sylvia’ who is a Hard of Hearing and a Child of Deaf Adult (HoH and CODA) that changes his life. Raine does not hold back and touches on some crucial issues. Isolation, language deprivation, finding love, and employment are over analyzed by the family of academics that are all struggling to find a way to connect.
I enjoyed the quick-paced dialogue speed and depth. Under the direction of Annamaria Pileggi the talented cast breathed truth into Raine’s words. There were audible gasps from the audience as the family dynamic unfolded with dramatic reveals. The size of the Gaslight Theatre adds to the intimate connection I felt with the story and actors.
Miles Barbee plays ‘Billy.’ He was in the Broadway Revival of Spring Awakening from Deaf West and has a film called ‘The Silent Natural’ coming out soon. With ease, Barbee shows the range in the characters vulnerability and independence. It was amazing to see such a complex character come to life, and he is a force on the stage. Elizabeth Ann Townsend plays ‘Beth,’ the matriarch of the family. She is always loving while facing her children growing up and focusing on herself. Townsend is a charming figure and lets the audience feel the love for this family. Greg Johnston plays ‘Christopher’ the father and former teacher who can not find the right words even with his love of language. Johnston brings raw emotions to the father who is trying to peg his children in certain spots. Ryan Lawson-Maeske is ‘Daniel’ who has his problems that are also pushed aside like ‘Billy.’ This leads to a strong connection between the brothers that was very visible onstage between Lawson-Maeske and Barbee. Hailey Medrano is ‘Ruth,’ the sister to ‘Billy’ and ‘Daniel,’ who is struggling in finding her place in life and this family, which Medrano plays well while showing the quite drive of the character. Bridgette Bassa is ‘Sylvia’ who falls for ‘Billy’ and teaches him about the Deaf world. Bassa has terrific chemistry with everyone onstage, but her scenes with Barbee are strongest. She shows love and concern with every lesson she teaches and learns.
The set and lights, designed by Patrick Huber, are a great fit. The central place of the story is the downstairs of a British family. The subtitles for the BSL were placed perfectly and easy to read. My only concern was the transitions. They started powerful and strong with sharp blackouts and heavy cliffhangers, but then it seemed an extra long time for the crew to ready the next scene.
I would recommend this show to this who enjoy British humor and drama, those audience members who love seeing deaf talent shine, and everyone who wants an enjoyable night at the theatre. Some language and topics are mature, so this show is not for all ages.
‘Tribes’ run until December 16th at The Gaslight Theatre in St. Louis and presented by St. Louis Actors Studio. Ticket and show information can be found at their website /stlas.org/play/tribes/ Thursday and Sunday performances will be interpreted in American Sign Language (ASL).