Regional Reviews: Las Vegas
Also see Mary's review of Constellations
Self-absorption is its own kind of deafness. In Nina Raine's Drama Desk Award-winning play Tribes, the members of a middle-class English family talkand frequently shoutat cross-purposes to one another. They consider themselves "creative," which for some of them means unemployed and underachieving; the three children, all adults, still live at home. They salve their disappointments through noisy chatter, bickering, one-upmanship, and general hubbub. Is this familial love or emotional abuse?
Each family member is obsessed in some way with words, whether in the form of academic writing, opera singing, orin the case of Ruth, the mothera sputtering attempt to write a "marriage breakdown detective novel." Yet this fiercely expressive family has made no effort to learn sign language to communicate with deaf son Billy, who tries desperately to follow their ceaseless arguments by lip-reading, but finds himself ignored and forced to guess at the words he is missing. Patriarch Christophera foul-mouthed, obnoxious academic who lacks verbal impulse control and disdains anyone different from himself (and who no longer holds a teaching position, for reasons we can only imagine)actively discourages Billy from learning sign language, because that would make him a "minority." Rather than learn to communicate with his son, Christopher prefers to study Chinese, walling himself off from his family with the aid of a laptop and headphones. In Christopher's view, meaning cannot exist apart from language. His loquacious son Daniel, an aspiring academic slogging hopelessly through the twelfth draft of an incomprehensible thesis, argues with ironic verbosity that language is worthless, while becoming increasingly isolated by the strange voices in his head.
Billy awakens to his family's dysfunction when he meets Sylvia, a daughter of deaf parents who is slowly losing her hearing as well, and who introduces him to sign language. Emboldened, Billy hopes to forge a new family with Sylvia, the deaf community, and a responsible job in the hearing world where he can utilize the lip-reading skills he perfected with his family. Can these new tribes give him the inclusiveness and fulfillment that eluded him at home? Can his old tribe survive his departure?
The cast of LVLT's well-staged production navigates this emotional turbulence with style. As parents Ruth and Christopher, stage veterans Charlene Moskal and Glenn Heath paint a convincing portrait of a rocky middle-aged marriage. Ace Gilliam as Billy and Jasmine Kojouri as Sylvia are appealing and natural as the young couple caught between the hearing and non-hearing worlds. Kojouri creates a magical moment when, pestered relentlessly by Billy's cacophonous family, she presents silent poetry through sign language. Some of the evening's brightest sparks come from Sarah Spraker as the family's frustrated opera singer, whether she is quarreling with her rivalrous sibling Daniel or learning to accept the mixed results that life has dealt her. In the especially difficult role of Daniel, Josh Sigal's slightly forced performance in the early scenes gives way to a deeply affecting portrait of mental illness. In the midst of pain, Daniel finds a wordless eloquence.
Tribes runs Thursday-Saturday at 8 pm, and Sunday at 2 pm, through January 24, 2016, at the Fischer Black Box, 3920 Schiff Drive, Las Vegas, NV 89103. Tickets ($15 adults, $14 seniors and students) and information are available online at lvlt.org or by calling 702-362-7996.