There are none so deaf as those who don’t listen — Tribes muses at La Jolla Playhouse

By Diana Saenger

When San Diegans hear the word “tribes,” they might think Native American Indians living nearby. However, the word represents a much broader concept — communities, societies, particular groups within a society, families. That’s the theme of La Jolla Playhouse’s upcoming production of “Tribes” by playwright Nina Raine and directed by David Cromer.

Shirley Fishman, La Jolla Playhouse’s Resident Dramaturg. Courtesy

An acerbic, yet comical look at family dynamics, “Tribes” was nominated for the 2010 Olivier Award for Best Play and was the winner of the 2012 Drama Desk and New York Critics Circle Awards.

Billy (Russell Harvard) is deaf and struggles to keep up with a family that spends its time obsessing over its own individualities and seeking the attention of others. Billy’s lip-reading skills leave him out of the loop and drive him to go outside his home “tribe” to find fulfillment.

Shirley Fishman, the Playhouse’s Resident Dramaturg, said she grew up with two deaf parents and two deaf aunts, so when she first saw “Tribes” in New York, she was totally enthralled.

“I found the play gripping right from the beginning,” Fishman said. “Much of what happens in the play I experienced … I had a profound sense of recognition about not hearing and not listening, as many times growing up, I was not proficient (enough to know) what was being signed, so I was also not part of my family’s tribe.”

As Billy mingles out in the community, he connects with Daniel (Thomas DellaMonica), Sylvia (Meghan O’Neill), Beth (Lee Roy Rogers), Christopher (Jeff Still) and Ruth (Dina Thomas), who all help him discover a new tribe and a new world.

Fishman said she could identify with the character of Billy. She was a sign language interpreter in the 1970s, and worked in various situations from hospital settings to an auto body shop helping a deaf man who fixed cars. Her uncle started a deaf club called “The Union League,” and she would join her relatives there to see performances of dancers, actors and magic acts.

“My experience goes right to the theme of ‘Tribes,’ about those who once belonged to the hearing world, then lost their hearing and had to integrate themselves into the culture (of the deaf),” Fishman said.

Most of the cast appeared in the Off-Broadway production of “Tribes,” along with director David Cromer, who was at the helm.

“We were so fortunate to have David come here as the original director of this play,” Fishman said. “He created a very realistic environment that takes place around the dining-room table, and includes directions and subtitles that are shown. It’s a brilliant scene that demonstrates three different ways to communicate.”

Those who are unaware of the challenges of being deaf will find the play just as intriguing as those who are familiar with the issues, Fishman said.

“The play’s subject is universal; we all yearn to listen, to have a voice and be understood by our family. In families with hearing impairment, both sides want to be able to communicate with each other. This play shows the different ways we do — or do not — communicate by the way we hear, listen and see.”

Fishman added it’s not just a topic for folks dealing with deafness; in today’s world with all the distractions of cell phones, iPads and just too much going on, we all often fall into the category of not listening or fully understanding.

“I belong to a theater tribe and I’m the child of a deaf adult tribe,” Fishman said. “We all belong to different tribes in our daily lives, and that’s why this play will resonate with people from all walks of life.”

If you go

What: ‘Tribes’

When: Matinees, evenings June 25-July 21

ASL interpreted: June 30, July 9, 19 and 21

Where: Mandell Weiss Theatre, La Jolla Playhouse,

2910 La Jolla Village Drive, UC San Diego campus

Tickets: From: $15

Box Office: (858) 550-1010


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  5. San Diego actress returns to star in ‘Sleeping Beauty Wakes’ at the Playhouse

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Posted by Staff on Jun 19, 2013. Filed under A & E, Theater. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. You can skip to the end and leave a response. Pinging is currently not allowed.

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