"Tribes," which opened this past weekend at Heartland Theatre Company, provides its audience an indelible experience by casting a light onto a world most of us don't know — the non-hearing world.
Billy, a young adult who was born deaf, is a member of a volatile and intellectual family. His father, Christopher, is a retired professor, and his mother, Beth, is a novelist. The family sport is squabbling.
Christopher rails "why am I suddenly surrounded by my children again?" when Ruth, who dabbles in singing opera at coffee houses, and Dan, who is tinkering on a mysterious thesis, move home again.
As to his deaf child who has just finished college, they all agree, "Not Billy, he's a delight."
And Billy is, as he silently sits and watches his father berate Ruth for who she is dating, and Dan for not having a job. Beth, who taught Billy how to speak (not sign), is constantly trying to smooth things over.
The family's turmoil goes into overdrive when Billy meets a girl, Sylvia. Billy is immediately smitten by the articulate and beautiful young woman, who is strong enough to stand up to Billy's father when Billy first takes her home to meet his "tribe."
Sylvia is losing her hearing, due to a genetic condition. Her parents have been deaf since birth. Sylvia has been immersed in the deaf community all her life. She brings Billy into the non-hearing world. Billy is thrilled by this; his family is not.
Director Sandra Zielinski, as always, is masterful in drawing out exquisitely poignant performances from her rock-solid cast. Special kudos go to dramaturg Brooke Hausmann for teaching signing to the actors, and Rob Fulton for his lovely scenic design.
Kaitlyn Wehr as Sylvia and Colin Law as Billy respectfully portray two young deaf people in luminous performances that are simply unforgettable.
Weiss is a freelance writer who reviews plays for The Pantagraph.