‘Tribes’ spotlights student talent

‘Tribes’ spotlights student talent

If you’re lucky, you have people you can rely on to understand you. Without that, life can become empty, and we’re only now starting to understand how loneliness truly affects us. But what if you’re cut off through no fault of your own, and the only people that can help don’t seem to understand or care?

Billy (Joseph Ausanio) was born deaf to a hearing family; he’s recently graduated college and moved back home with his parents, Christopher (David Bunce) and Beth (Leigh Strimbeck) and his adult siblings, Ruth (Camryn Beck) and Daniel (Mitchell Johnson.) They’re a loud, creative family, and everything moves quickly – no allowances are given for Billy and he often feels left out. When he meets Sylvia (Francesca Volpe) there’s instant chemistry; she grew up in a deaf family and is slowly losing her own hearing. She acts as his guide into the deaf world and Billy finds a new tribe where he feels welcome and wanted – but where does that leave the tribe who raised him?

Director David Baecker took great care with this production – not only with the direction, which was stellar, but with finding interpreters to direct the American Sign Language on stage; ASL is very important, obviously, in this production, and was handled beautifully.

Ausanio’s work here is just breathtaking; he says so much with just facial expressions and body movement that speech becomes almost an afterthought. It’s truly a master class in acting to watch him work – one of the strongest performances I’ve seen this year. I was so frustrated with Bunce’s character I literally had my hands in fists; it says something about the strength of his work that he elicited a physical response from me. Strimbeck’s Beth is utterly believable, with a bit of every mother I’ve known in her. Beck, Johnson and Volpe, all Sage students, give fine performances – our college talent pool here is vast and never fails to impress. Johnson, especially, has a wrenching role, and watching the changes in his character is heartbreaking; his final scene will leave you in tears.

William Spencer Musser’s scenic design is perfection – this is doubtless the home this family would live in: not a single uncluttered surface, bright colors, books and art everywhere, and the feeling of being lived-in and loved. The projections, designed by Xavier Rene, add the perfect touch; not only are they necessary, they’re artistic expressions that become part of the narrative.

The show itself was a bit too long; playwright Nina Raine, although very talented, added a bit more than necessary, and by concentrating on just what was needed, would have delivered a stronger punch.

This is a regional premiere (and thank you to Baecker and Sage for that – new theater is one of my favorite things) and I can’t express enough how strong, moving, important and beautiful this production is. This is an absolute can’t-miss, and I’m so glad I was able to experience it. I’ll be thinking about it for some time.

“Tribes,” Theatre Institute at Sage, Meader Little Theater, 5 Division Street, Troy; through April 22; $15-$8; Run time: 2 hours and 20 minutes with a 15-minute intermission; (518) 244-4505;

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