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Tribes is a must see!

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Susan Main

Tribes is a must see!

By Susan Main
Vice President, Fundraising and Strategic Communications

I just saw the most terrific play – Tribes.  It’s a play about a young deaf man Billy who has grown up in a hearing family. He wears hearing aids, communicates orally and has never been exposed to sign language… until he meets Sylvia. 

Sylvia grew up in a household with Deaf parents who sign.  Her hearing is rapidly deteriorating and she knows she will eventually be completely deaf.  She signs and speaks.

Sylvia introduces Billy to a whole new world of communication and community; everything in his life changes.

The play is raw, real and brilliantly captures the complexity and frustrations that come when communication breaks down.  

Every attitude, myth, stereotype – from both the hearing and Deaf worlds – is laid bare for the audience to wrestle with:  from the father’s curmudgeonly attitude of why anyone would want to bring up a child to be part of a minority, to the Deaf community’s hierarchical judgement of just how deaf a person is depending on whether they were born deaf, have deaf parents, sign or speak.

There are no easy answers and the audience is left with much to ponder about the nature of communication, the role of family, relationships, and society’s attitudes.

At CHS, we see these dilemmas and struggles every day played out in the real lives of the people we serve.  But for them and for us, it’s not a play. 

If Tribes can help increase understanding and bring the Deaf and hearing worlds closer together by exposing the realities of each other’s lives, it will have done society a great service.

Tribes and playwright Nina Raines have won a number of awards in 2012 including an Offie Award (for best play in London’s independent theatres); Drama Award for Best New Play; and the New York Drama critics Circle Award for Best Foreign Play.

My personal opinion: Tribes is a must see! If you’re new to the world of Deaf and hearing relationships, it’s a fantastic introduction.  If you’re living it, you’ll probably see yourself at least a few times throughout the play.

On at the Berkeley Street Theatre until March 2, 2014.

Tribes will also run at Theatre Aquarius in Hamilton from May 7-24, 2014. CHS will have a presence at the play in Hamilton.

Note: In Toronto, there have been two ASL-interpreted performances, but none in the final week.  The play is not fully accessible; there are some surtitles and signing throughout. In Hamilton, check the theatre for scheduled ASL-interpreted performances.

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