The Tribe Has Spoken

We are hitting the time of year when it becomes imperative to bundle up and stay indoors. Soon snow flurries will give way to full-blown arctic weather, and we’ll buckle down for the coming months.

photo 2Minneapolis is a great place for many reasons, one of which is its mole-like skyway system. Constant protection from the elements! Another is our incredible theater scene. I’ve written in the past about seeing shows at Mixed Blood Theater, the Cowles Center, and the Orpheum. This week, I ventured to the Guthrie Theater for the first time (I know! The first time!) to see a fantastic show: Tribes. I’m happy to report that the Guthrie is one of the most breathtaking buildings in the city, and the play was absolutely wonderful.

The show was written just a few years ago by a woman named Nina Raine, and was originally performed in London theaters. Tribes made its American debut in 2012, and has quickly won national awards. It’s a story about a family with three children, including a son, Billy, who was born deaf. Members of this incredibly loud family pride themselves on their linguistic abilities (all are writers or performers), and therefore never taught Billy sign language. They felt it was their responsibility to integrate him into the ‘hearing’ world, and did so by teaching him to read lips and speak. Years later, Billy meets a young woman named Sylvia who was born to deaf parents and is slowly going deaf herself, and an entirely new world is opened to him. Suddenly he is part of a deaf community that feels like the family he always wanted: understanding and willing to listen.

photo 1Billy begins to feel that his family used him as a mascot and forced him to speak, rather than trying to relate to him and learn sign language themselves. Tribes is a beautiful story, and reveals many complex issues that families deal with: belief systems, love, societies, and the role language plays in our lives.

This summary all sounds very serious – and it was. But there was also an incredible sense of comedy throughout the play. The role of family dynamics was ever-present, and often laugh-out-loud yelling matches ensued. Tribes is also an unbelievably tender show; though not a love story per se, it showed how family and community act as a person’s “tribe.”

I really enjoyed this play. So, I have no problem taking this opportunity to plug it: Tribes is at the Guthrie until November 10th. You’ll laugh, you’ll cry, and I have no doubt you’ll love it, too.


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