Nina Raine's 'Tribes' explores a specific and general deafness
He soon breaks free and into clearer view after meeting a woman named Ruth (a sharp and vital Elizabeth Morton) with whom he falls instantly in love. Ruth is losing her hearing, but coming from deaf parents, she is well acquainted with the community and culture of the deaf. This does not make her transition any easier, however. Indeed, it complicates it in subtle ways. More than any other character, she straddles both worlds: the hearing and the non-hearing. It makes her both threatening and attractive to Billy's family, who fear Billy's categorization and cooptation as part of a deaf minority.
Billy, unusually adept at lip reading and emboldened by his love for Ruth and the community she provides access to, takes a job with a law court providing crucial transcriptions from audio-less video for criminal trials. This allows him to move out of the family home for the first time. Ruth teaches him ASL, which he begins to use more and more exclusively. Both he and Ruth meanwhile confront a family that places a premium on the connection between language and feeling. From this constellation of voices and positions, a serious split emerges that throws the family into a tailspin while asking a series of stimulating questions about where, and how, we belong.
Raine's 2010 play (originally produced by London's Royal Court Theatre) gets a spirited, involving production from Berkeley Rep and director Jonathan Moscone. Moscone (the artistic director of California Shakespeare Theater who excelled at another contemporary family-social drama when he helmed Bruce Norris's Clybourne Park at ACT) stirs the hornet's nest of mad, madcap family living with an expert hand, and his fine cast delivers Raine's witty (albeit sometimes too thematically forceful) dialogue with precision and ease. If the play wraps up a little abruptly, it also leaves much in the ensuing silence to continue listening to. 2
Through May 18
Tue and Thu-Sat, 8pm (also Sat, 2pm); Wed and Sun, 7pm (also Sun, 2pm; no 2pm show May 18), $29-99
Berkeley Repertory Theatre
2015 Addison, Berk