Thursday, August 20, 2015

Tribes by Nina Raine opens at Mad Cow.

Winner of the 2012 Drama Desk Award for Outstanding Play, Tribes tells the story of Billy, a young man with a comically dysfunctional family. Having been born deaf in a hearing family, Billy struggles to find his place in his own home. But when he meets a young woman who is going deaf herself, she begins to teach Billy about a whole different type of family he never knew he had. With dark humor and heartwarming sincerity, Nina Raine’s exquisite new play explores what it means to belong.

I had to find my way into the dress rehearsal by entering the back door. I took a wrong turn and found myself at a dead end at the actors dressing rooms. In the green room several people were signing to each other. It seemed awkward to ask them for directions to the stage since they might be deaf. I finally asked the woman working at a sewing machine, which way to go. I literally had to walk on the stage to get into the theater. Thankfully no actors were rehearsing at the time. I arrived just as a run through of the show was about to start. The rehearsal had two signers on house right who signed all of the dialogue. I glanced over periodically to watch their graceful interpretations.

The play started with individual family members entering the stage in the dark. When they reached their mark, a stage light flooded them in a pool of light. Light patterns moved on the back wall in sync with classical music much like the abstract animated sequence in Fantasia. Ruth (Hannah Benitez) and Daniel (Peter Travis) had just returned home to live with their parents. Billy (Michael Gordon) sat silent at the end of the table as the family argued. There were lighting tech issues to be ironed out, so I got to sketch this opening scene quite a few times.

When Billy met Sylvia (Lexi Langs) they stood face to face. Billy had been deaf since birth and Sylvia was slowly becoming deaf. There was a palpable chemistry between them and finally Billy leaned forward to kiss her. After their exchange a small ball of light rose against the back wall and it exploded into an expanding universe of stars filling the whole stage with dancing points of light.  It was a beautiful visual analogy about how the heart expands when it finds love.

Billy's family, especially Daniel feels like Sylvia is taking away to join the tribe of the deaf. When she comes to dinner, the patriarch, Christopher (Mark Edward Smith) confronts her by insisting that signing is an inferior form of communication. Christopher and his wife Beth (Marty Stonerock) are both authors so they believe in the power of words. When Sylvia signs poetry, there is no denying that her graceful movements are poetic and beautiful. The direction by Aradhana Tiwari heightens the shows heart felt theme. During a family argument the sound cuts out entirely giving the audience an insight into Billy's experience. When Sylvia performs at the piano, abstract forms and notes dance in a rhythmic projection. Sight takes place of sound to experience the music. There are subtitles as Billy and Sylvia sign to each other. This is s show about love and wanting to belong. Experience the magic for yourself at the Mad Cow.

Mad Cow Theatre 54 W Church St, Orlando, Florida
Tickets are $11
Aug 21 at 8:00pm to Sep 20 at 3:00pm
ASL-interpreted performances will be held on August 23 at 3:00pm and on September 4 and 17 at 8:00pm.

Prints are available for each sketch for $250 and many originals can be purchased for $400. White museum grade shadow box frames are $100 more. You can e-mail Thor at

1 comment:

Joseph Hayes said...

Ruth (Hannah Benitez) doesn't perform on the piano, it is Lexi Langs as Billy's girlfriend.