Tribes is a family play about the limitations of communication and the desire to belong.
Billy’s family, like every other, is a club, with its own private language, jokes and rules. You can be as rude as you like, as possessive as you like, as critical as you like. Arguments are an expression of love and you’re meant to love each other more than anyone in the world. But Billy, who is deaf, is the only one who actually listens. Raised without the knowledge of sign language, his perspective changes when he meets and falls in love with Sylvia and decides he finally wants to be heard.
Raine was inspired to write the play after watching a documentary about a deaf couple who expressed hopes that their child would be born deaf. The kernel of the idea of the family as a ‘tribe’ who passed down values and belief systems from one generation to the other took root. In this play, Billy is caught between two warring ‘tribes’ – his family and his newfound relationship with Sylvia, an active member of the deaf community of which Billy has previously not been a part.
Tribes was first performed at the Royal Court Theatre in London in 2010. The play received very positive reviews but was arguably more successful in the US where it enjoyed sell-out runs at the Barrow Street Theater and the Mark Taper Forum. The play received another round of excellent reviews and won the 2012 Drama Desk Award for Outstanding Play and the New York Drama Critics’ Circle Award.