The narcissism in “Tribes” will make your skin crawl — but its potency is what makes this play so effective.
These loathsome, pompous Brits — played to perfection in SpeakEasy Stage’s latest production — are an educated, insult-hurling family with foul mouths and a staggering inability to truly hear one another. It’s only when their deaf son Billy (James Caverly), who was forced to lip read rather than sign by his selfish family, ventures outside the confines of his emotionally stunted, co-dependent tribe that their twisted communication begins to break down.
The catalyst of the change is Billy’s new girlfriend Sylvia (Erica Spyres), a hearing person who is starting to go deaf. When he learns American Sign Language (ASL) at her encouragement, new worlds open up for him — but he’s also forced to face the reality of his old life.
Though Nina Raine’s script veers, at times, into melodrama and Act II is a bit heavy-handed, all of the performances (under the meticulous direction of M. Bevin O’Gara) more than compensate for any shortcomings.
Erica Spyres delivers an exceptional performance that serves as the cornerstone on which the entire production is built. Whether speaking or signing, she unearths the challenges of going deaf with heartbreaking authenticity. But it’s what she doesn’t speak or sign that puts the lump in your throat, and leaves you awestruck.
Patrick Shea is equally revolting and riotous as Christopher, the boorish, self-centered patriarch of the family. Nael Nacer nicely unravels as his oldest son Daniel, while Kathryn Myles hist all her marks as his daughter Ruth, an aspiring, yet flaky, opera singer. Adrianne Krstansky captures the balance between the dysfunction and her maternal instincts as Beth with lines like “I’m not saying anything, all I’m saying is…”
James Caverly brings impeccable instincts and impressive acting chops to his fine turn as Billy. Together, he and Spyres make magic that transcends all senses.
Through Oct. 20
BCA Calderwood Pavilion, 527 Tremont St., Boston
Starting at $25, 617-933-8600