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Theater Review: Tribes

Tweetable Review: An immensely talented & multi-layered show with a spirited finale that will sneak up on the heart.

Photo 1As we enter the thick of the holiday season and we gather with various family members for times of annual traditions, it becomes all the more apparent (esp. after having been away for a while) that space often does make the heart grow fonder & memories, stories and emotions tend to stick around longer than the people who dispersed the sentiments. In the hustle and bustle of the day-to-day, life can take a toll on the relationships we value most –  sure, our loved ones mean well, but often the relationships that helped shape our World, are some of the more caustic in our lives. Mother/Father, Brother/Sister, Cousins – all have the ability to be the most comfortable and good for us but have the potential to sour in verbal tactic. In Steppenwolf Theatre’s newest outing, British playwright Nina Raine’s Tribes asks audiences to consider  how the interpersonal communications we relate to those closest to us can speak the loudest, even when the verbal may not be present.

With Raine’s intensely grounded & often-times witty playTribes, audiences are thrown deep into the path of a  brazen British family headed by the very outspoken patriarch Christopher (the stand-offish and callous  Francis Guinan) & proper mother Beth (comforting & utterly protective Molly Regan), having reared a progressive group of three that’s far from shy about what’s on their minds – esp. for those guests who venture past the family’s front door of their bi-level home (observantly and categorically designed with wonderful detail by Walt Spangler). The center piece of this group’s platform is the dinner table, where it’s a no-holds-bar match of wits for anyone who steps into the academic ring. First is the stammer-riddled Daniel (solidly committed Steve Haggard), faces off against the mopey and single-girl-turned-pseudo-Opera-singer Ruth (Helen Sadler), with none other than the family’s youngest & most individualized Billy (a firmly outstanding & gut-wrenchingly wonderful John McGinty), being coddled by the majority of the family due to the boy’s deafness.

Photo 2When Billy meets & begins dating Sylvia (a sympathetically gripping Alana Arenas), a hearing-born woman who’s fate is much the same as her deaf parents, Billy becomes acquainted with the greater deaf community & the rules (much like the Billy’s inner home life) that are located within. It’s with this newfound connection to his love & family that Billy states to his parents he will no longer communicate to his personal clan unless done so through signing, a language which is inferior to his Father in every way & a catalyst for explosive entanglements.

In true fashion, Steppenwolf’s Tribes continues another exciting run of exploring the grounds of familiar drama. Director & company member Austin Pendleton brings a skillfulness for Raine’s material by engaging audiences with sharp hooks, while recognizing the subtly in the work & pulls back to give the story it’s humanistic resonance.  Raine’s astutely-aggressive script, of which took both the Drama Desk & New York Drama Critics Circle in 2012, is a production that’s multi-tiered in nature & poses deep questions about familiar communications, handicaps & disabilities, love & prejudices & are all gripping to watch and ripe with conflict buried deep within. On the performance that was taken in,Tribes suffered a bit during it’s First Act with timing & momentum, while there seemed to be a hint amongst the cast of only a vague cohesiveness to the overall performance toward the middle of the Second Act. However, one can easily overlook the hiccups with Raine’s strong presence, heart & dual-sided viewpoints which take shape & wraps this production in a very nice bow that presents itself in a surprising and arresting resolution.

Photo 3Immensely talented in all areas, Tribes may not be the type of traditional show that audiences will take in on first glance during the holiday season, but that doesn’t mean it’s any less family oriented or focused on the spirit of the heart. With being so close to the end of the year, it may be the last great show of 2013 that you shouldn’t miss.

Fresh Roasted Rating: Highly Recommended
When: Through Feb. 9
Where: Steppenwolf Theatre, 1650 N. Halsted
Running time: 2 hours, 20 minutes
Tickets: $20-$82 at 312-335-1650 and steppenwolf.org

~ Matt Miles, 24/7 Contributor
Producer of Fresh Roasted Films

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