Heartland Theatre's Tribes -- a powerful, irreverent, emotional play about an idiosyncratic British family with a deaf son who has functioned as the quiet eye of their hurricane -- has already finished two weekends of performances. What does that mean? Only one weekend left!
Audiences have been responding very enthusiastically to director Sandra Zielinski's production, led by Illinois State University MFA actor Colin Law as Billy, the deaf son caught in the crosshairs of a smart, ferociously verbal family. His parents are writers of different stripes; his sister fancies herself an opera singer, and his brother is in the midst of a thesis about linguistics and language. At the play's onset, Billy doesn't know sign language, but he is a skillful lip reader. But as the others shout around him, sparring with quips, insults and some very colorful curses, Billy tires of trying to keep up. Is everyone too self-involved, too impatient to notice how much their son doesn't fit into this tribe?
When Billy meets a young woman named Sylvia, everything changes. She is pretty much his opposite, a hearing child born into a deaf family, someone fluent in sign language and very much a part of the deaf community. Billy is taken with her fairly quickly, but he's also taken with this new world she's opened up. And that's the premise at the center of Tribes. Where does Billy belong? What does his family owe him? What does he owe them? Is Sylvia stealing him away from them, or is he using her as a life raft?
Raine's play has some tricky twists and turns, moving from comedy to despair and back again,and Zielinski and her actors navigate the trouble spots beautifully. Colin Law is terrific as Billy, giving the play a steady center and then deconstructing it bit by bit as the drama escalates. He is matched nicely by ISU senior actor Kaitlyn Wehr, who has fire and elegance as Sylvia, the girl of his dreams. Both tear it up when it comes to expressing emotion through sign language, a credit to dramaturg and signing specialist Brooke Hausmann.
The ensemble is strong across the board, with Timothy Wyman and Cristen Monson adding warmth and irascible charm to the family mix as Billy's parents, Aaron Sparks portraying troubled brother Daniel with edgy vulnerability, and Connie Blick turning sister Ruth into a tempestuous (and funny) drama queen.
Rob Fulton's scenic design is as eccentric and detailed as the family it houses, offering a perfectly drawn platform for their messy, complicated lives, while Jeanine Fry's costumes are especially good for Ruth and Sylvia, giving us visual clues about who they are.
Tribes continues through the 27th, with performances tomorrow, Friday and Saturday at 7:30 pm and a matinee at 2 pm on Sunday. The Thursday performance features sign language interpreters.
To see show times, click here. Try this link for reservation information.