Yesterday we attended Tribes at Circa theatre in Wellington. I nearly didn’t bother to go, but I am so glad I did. The play is about Billy, a young deaf man and his rather dysfunctional family and other relationships. I love theatre, and I particularly love plays that make me think, make me laugh, and leave me feeling satisfied. Tribes met all those requirements.
It is about finding a “voice”, as each of us needs to do, and belonging. But it is also about being Deaf as opposed to deaf. Tribes scrutinises identity and the ways we communicate with and understand each other on deeper levels. Exploration of family dynamics around a member who is “different” is subtle and perceptive. Each family member constructs that “difference” in their own way. Tribes explores with moving insight the issues for those of us born with impairments, and those who acquire them later. I can relate to all of that that at a deeply personal level.
The play shows that Sign Language is a subtle and beautiful language, and that Deaf people are not the only ones for whom it can be a essential channel of communication.
Finding identity may not always result in happy ever afters. We discover that communities can be closed, insular in outlook and incestuous – “Everyone has slept with everyone else.” Sylvia says of the Deaf community.
At times I found the necessity to read captions and miss facial expression frustrating. That is my vision impairment.
But don’t think that this is some kind of worthy, earnest preachy play. It isn’t. It is original, funny, award-winning theatre, devoid of sentimentality or mawkishness. I enjoyed it very much. Deaf and hearing, disabled and non-disabled theatregoers will find Tribes is challenging, entertaining and enriching.
It is unthinkable that that such a play would be denied translation into New Zealand Sign Language. Theatre, including Sign Language is a central and fundamental part of our cultural expression and heritage.
The NZSL interpreted performance of Tribes will be on Friday, 3 May at 8pm.
Tribes is on at Circa Theatre until May 4. Circa is accessible.