Kevin Broccoli’s Epic Theatre once again challenges the audience with the Rhode Island premiere of Nina Raine’s provocative play, “Tribes.”
The title refers to the family as a “tribe,” where members try to protect each other. In this case, it is Billy (Joseph Ausonio), the son who was born deaf. The family of British academics sit around the dining room table, surrounded by stacks of books, pontificating on a variety of intellectual subjects while Billy works hard to be part of the conversation.
Dad, a self-proclaimed expert on everything, has chosen to teach Billy to lip read, rejecting sign language as a method of exclusion from the outside world.
Billy meets a woman who is going deaf and has chosen sign language as her method of communication. She presently lives in both worlds, bringing Billy into the world of signing, only to threaten and alienate his possessive family.
While the play is about deafness, it is also about the broader issues of communication, exclusion and family relationships. Director TJ Curran worked with the Rhode Island School for the Deaf through the six weeks of rehearsals, as the cast learned a bit of sign language and communication skills needed to communicate.
Ausanio, an actor who happens to be deaf, was brilliant in the role of Billy. Stephanie Traversa as Sylvia learned how to sign as rehearsals progressed.
This is a difficult play to perform, as the actors must always be aware of the circumstances surrounding their communication in front of an audience. I saw the play in New York, where the setting was in-the-round and actors sat around the table. Curran chose to have them sit on one side, making Billy’s character work a bit harder to catch all that was going on.
As Billy’s relationships with Sylvia and his family members becomes more complicated, many issues are put forth, giving the audience much to think about, raising many questions about inclusion, family relationships and how we react to people with handicaps.
You have a chance to catch this challenging production this Friday and Saturday, Jan. 24 and 25, at 8 p.m. at Theatre 82, 82 Rolfe St. in Cranston, second home of Artist’s Exchange. Tickets are $15/$12 for students. Check them out at www.epictheatreri.org.