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Monday, February 9, 2015

"Tribes" @ Artists Rep

"Tribes" is a play about family, and how families are their own little "tribes." I wish I hadn't read the Playwright's Note while waiting for the play to begin, it would've been nice to happen upon the meaning of the title on my own. Though I fear that without the Playwright's Note, I may have understood only half of the title's meaning. You see, the the word "tribe" has also been applied to those of us with the same disability. In the case of this play, that disability is deafness. It appears that deaf people take that tribal mentality more seriously than others. And that's why I appreciated the other sense of "tribe" referring to "family", because it diluted my misgivings about its meaning in the context of disability. There is a ton of discussion within the play about the Deaf Community. There are huge differences of opinion about deafness/ hearing-loss between those born with it, and those who go deaf later in life, what one character calls a "hierarchy".  I suppose that there are things unique to deafness that differentiate it from other disabilities, namely, that Sign Language is very much a language, not merely an adaptation, and I assume that this is a large part of the reason why "tribal" feelings are so strong. But, I must admit that I winced when the parents' efforts to raise their son not to be "defined" by his disability were questioned. I couldn't help but reflect upon my own life with Cerebral Palsy. I know that the feelings of "isolation" that were supposed to come from  being the only one,  or one of very few children with a disability was once a prevalent and powerful argument against educating us in regular classrooms, one that I am grateful my parents fought against. I never felt those feelings, but I can understand how other people might, and again, the differences about deafness that other disabilities do not share.

Back to the play itself: The interactions between the family members are hilarious. The projections are truly breathtaking, and provoke a mental "wow!" Especially effective are the ones dealing with deafness, the translations of musical notes into colors and static, when a character losing her hearing plays piano. Subtitling is also inventively done, but I must say that I would have appreciated a few more seconds to read them. "Tribes" is a must-see. It will make you look at your world, and the world at large in a different way.

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