Theater: ‘Tribes’ is the story of a deaf man, played by a deaf man

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Joey Caverly plays a deaf man living in the hearing world in “Tribes.” For Caverly, the role is easier to embody than it might be for other actors — he’s deaf as well.

“I can understand the acceptance that Billy seeks, the sense of belonging he desires,” says the actor, through an email conversation with Metro, who speaks, lip-reads and signs while depicting the lead character in the show, Billy.

Raised by a hearing family, Billy learned to speak and read lips rather than use sign language. But then he’s introduced to the deaf community, prompting him to question where he really belongs.

Caverly’s upbringing wasn’t the same as Billy’s. But he knows what it feels like to be surrounded by peers who don’t understand sign language. He’s experienced the struggle to keep up with conversations, the isolation and the loneliness.

“That communication barrier is a big handicap in our lives,” says Caverly.

He joins this play after two years working with the National Theatre for the Deaf. As one might imagine, training and performing are a bit different for deaf actors.

“Sign language requires the use of facial expressions and body language to convey words and emotions, so it’s easier for a deaf actor than a hearing actor to determine what their face and body should say when delivering a line,” explains Caverly.

When speaking, actors use different tones and stress certain words to relay emotion to an audience. In a similar fashion, Caverly says that deaf actors have to decide what level of signing to use: “Is the signing more posh or more grassroots? Academic versus street sign? Is the signing more artistic, creating pictures through hands rather than explaining word-for-word?” he explains.

This play isn’t just about the struggle between the deaf and hearing worlds, however.

“Anybody who hates and loves their family needs to see this show,” says Caverly. “It’s about a dysfunctional family that needs each other, that leans on one another, and shows love through confrontations and disputes.”

“Tribes”
Through Oct. 12
Boston Center for the Arts
527 Tremont St., Boston
$25-$60, 617-933-8600
speakeasystage.com


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