Performed: January 26-February 5, 2017
Written by Nina Raine. Directed by Blake White.
Featuring Joseph Ausanio, Megan Bowers, Jerry Durkin, Ian McCabe, Sarah Newhouse and Prentiss Standridge.
Scenic Design by Terry Cermak, Lighting & Projection Design by Tony Penna, Sound Design by Cjristopher Wilson and Costume Design by Jenny Zmarzly.
Photos courtesy of thefrenchguyphotography.
Press for Tribes
lcweekly.com Jan 2017
When Lean Ensemble Theater director Blake White decided to stage Nina Raine's critically-acclaimed Tribes, he knew he'd be plunging the two-year-old theater company into new territory. The play, which tells the story of a young deaf man and his struggle to be understood in a hearing world, needed an actor who had experienced those challenges firsthand.
On stage, the actor who would play Billy would have to navigate through a family of talkers-a family who, out of a desire to make him feel "normal," had decided against teaching him sign language. Instead he would rely on lip reading. But this is a clan whose conversations are dizzying in their complexity and verbal acrobatics, leaving Billy isolated. When a girlfriend introduces him to signing, he enters a new realm of communication, creating complications with and within his familial tribe.
After screening many audition tapes, White, who also serves as LET's founding artistic director, chose Joseph Ausanio, a 25-year-old LA-based deaf actor and writer who had played Billy in a West Coast production. Ausanio's portrayal had blown White away.
I wasn’t prepared for the full range of emotions I would experience when I saw the performance of “Tribes” on opening night at the Hilton Head Preparatory School Main Street Theater. The show is at once eye-opening, soul-shaking, joyful, searing, filled with ferocious intensity and, through it all, loaded with star-quality performances.
Though I’d seen segments of the work, read the script and even had the opportunity to talk with some of the cast members, the beauty of their acting was jaw dropping. “Tribes” is, by turns, very funny, very sad, very happy, elegantly nuanced and filled with courage and relevance.
Written by the British writerNina Raine and first performed in 2010 in London, “Tribes” has been seen and appreciated by so many theater goers across the country. We know Raine for her approach to thought-provoking issues.
Sometimes a writer chooses to create a work not simply to entertain, but to offer a storyline designed to inform, to instruct or to offer an opinion. The writer’s goal is to make a difference, to offer a point of view and, especially, to communicate some form of moral purpose which will connect with an audience.
Joseph Ausanio told me that he knew from the time he was about seven that he wanted to become an actor.
“My mom had taken me to see “Children of a Lesser God,” and when I saw Marlee Matlin, I thought, I want to be like that,” he said.
Actually, that doesn’t sound particularly unusual. Many young people dream of becoming actors when they grow up.
But Joseph Ausanio, who will take on the character of Billy in the Lean Ensemble’s production of Nina Raine’s award winning “Tribes,” when the show opens January 26, was not the typical seven year old. About the time he turned four, following a frightening battle with bacterial meningitis, he was diagnosed as profoundly deaf.
“My family was devastated,” said Ausanio. “No one in our family was deaf. They could not imagine that something like this would ever affect any of us. My dad, a major league baseball player, and my mom, were determined to see to all of my special requirements. I had cochlear implant surgery, and they befriended a deaf couple, and arranged for me to spend time with them, and connect with them in their silent world.
“Above all,” he continued, “ my parents wanted to make sure that I experienced a typical childhood, and that I was viewed by everyone as simply a member of our family. Though I had an interpreter, took speech therapy and I worked way beyond my classroom requirements, I wasn’t given any particular accommodations for my hearing loss. I was mainstreamed in school, succeeded academically, I was always involved in the school’s sports programs ... . And, so importantly, I would speak. I would not use sign language and they wouldn’t either.”
“I was surprised,” said Ausanio, “when I realized that my personal life paralleled, in so many ways, Billy’s, my character in “Tribes.” ... He also was required to connect with his family, friends and his broader community by speaking.”