Tribes: Communication breakdown

Tracey Maloney (Sylvia) and John McGinty (Billy) in <i>Tribes.</i>

Tracey Maloney (Sylvia) and John McGinty (Billy) in Tribes.

The first view the audience at the Guthrie Theater gets of Tribes is of Alexander Dodge's magnificent set. Stretching across all of the McGuire Proscenium Stage, the creation evokes a massive home built entirely of books.

Against this backdrop, Nina Raine's intimate play about communication threatens to get swallowed up. Director Wendy Goldberg and the six-actor cast, with the help of Raine's probing script, work to bridge the gap and produce a powerful two hours of theater.

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Raine explores the world of Billy, a young deaf man who grew up in a hearing family. His family is made up of teachers and artists who wear their passions on their sleeves. Think of the family at the center of You Can't Take It With You, but instead of being delightfully eccentric, they are fucking annoying. Self-absorbed to the point of ultimate vanity, they make plenty of noise without signifying anything.

Amid all of the noise, Billy (John McGinty) is set aside by his deafness. He has never learned sign language, so he struggles to keep up with the noise around him. That changes one evening when he meets Sylvia (Tracey Maloney), a young woman with deaf parents who is now losing her hearing. 

Sylvia opens up Billy's world, both by teaching him to sign and by becoming his first love. His family, led by overbearing patriarch Christopher (Stephen Schnetzer), at first offers some grudging respect for the change, but things eventually break down into a lot of shouting, both vocal and signed. 

Raine follows Billy and his family, especially troubled brother Daniel (Hugh Kennedy), in the aftermath of this as they attempt to find some way to truly communicate.

The company, which also includes Sally Wingert as matriarch Beth and Anna Reichert as daughter Ruth, does solid work from beginning to end, crafting a fully realized (if not entirely pleasant) world. McGinty and Maloney have strong chemistry together, especially in the silent scenes where they communicate mainly via sign language.


Through Nov. 10
Guthrie Theater
818 S. 2nd St., Minneapolis
For tickets and more information, call 612.377.2224.

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