In typical form, Road Less Traveled Productions in Buffalo presents a piece to challenge and stimulate the senses in its captivating production of TRIBES by Nina Raines. Never a company to hesitate in front of complex and direct subjects. TRIBES has been under construction for more than 2 years, derailed by the Covid pandemic. Luckily, the production was worth the wait as it grapples with the life of a dysfunctional family, which often takes place behind closed doors with angst and venom masquerading as love.
Raine shaped his storyline around the challenges of a deaf student named Billy who returns to live with his parents with his adult siblings. a mother who writes a murder mystery, a father who is a retired teacher, and a sister who is an aspiring opera singer. Everyone shouts and swears incessantly, lowering himself with each step, while Billy, deaf, lives his life in near silence, using only his lip-reading skills and his remnants of hearing (thanks to his hearing aids). ). A stranger in character, Sylvia, becomes Billy’s love interest – oh, and she goes deaf too.
There are fascinating questions that explore the nature of speech, how it can and cannot be used and interpreted, contrasted with the possible shortcomings of sign language. Raine’s skillful writing places us in situations where sign language is translated on video screens or skillfully incorporated into the set. Audiences are left to ponder language and communication in all its forms – written, spoken, signed, sung and even through voices in their own head and they slip into delusional thoughts. Do “hearing characters” really listen, although they are able to hear and do, deaf characters actually understand more than others believe.
Billy is played by newcomer Dave Wantuck. He’s charming and innocent from the start, clearly living in a silent world, but extremely observant and knowing. Wantuck brings believable authenticity to the role that craves you. Its subtlety, and often its silence, is palpable throughout. Anna Krempholtz brings a certain lightness and truth to the role of her sister Ruth. She flounders in her existence, without a clear path in her life.
Johnny Barden is a fascinating fireball as deeply troubled brother Dan. Prone to outbursts and mental breakdowns, Barden manages to turn a very unlikable persona into one that tugs at your heartstrings as he unravels to his core. His horrible family life and relationship problem embitter him and Barden is captivating in this juicy role as he mentally unleashes himself into delusional thinking and stuttering, unable to fully communicate with spoken words at the dramatic end of the story. room.
Melinda Capeles puts on a fine performance as the only outsider to the family. She finds humor when needed while bringing humanity and normalcy to the strained relationships between Billy’s family members. Her scenes with Wantuk are true to life, as the two fall in love through a combination of spoken and signed conversations. One of the finest scenes of the evening comes as Capeles struggles to vent her struggles with becoming deaf, against someone who has always been deaf like Billy.
The Parents are played by David Marciniak and Margaret Massman. Marciniak is terrific as a swaggering, bossy college professor who is irritating from the get-go. His preoccupation with literature outweighs any trace of family love. He escapes to his headphones as he tries to learn Chinese, but refuses any suggestion to learn sign language. Mrs. Massman has the maternal virtues one would hope for, but is only a spectator in the authoritarian shadow of her husband. The two are persecuted for never learning or teaching Billy sign language in an effort to help minimize his disability, but in doing so did they do him a disservice?
Decorator Lynne Koscielniak gave us a fully-furnished house, with several levels of play and careful decoration down to the smallest detail. John Rickus’ lighting is efficient and subtle.
Director Doug Zschiegner has the daunting task of guiding the actors through this complicated game of language and sensory overload. Who screams is heard, who lives in a silent world, who has to face whom to be understood… these logistics are so important to making the story believable and Zschiegner enacts the action in pinpoint detail.
Given its talented cast, the end product is not to be missed.
TRIBES performs at the Road Less Traveled Theater until MARCH 27, 2022. In partnership with Deaf Access Services, RLTP will also offer an ASL performance on Sunday, March 27 at 2:00 p.m. Contact www.roadlesstraveledproductions.org for more information.