British playwright Nina Raine's Tribes asks us to consider the nature of language itself. Is it more than mere words, sounds, expressions? This thought-provoking play about an incredibly dysfunctional (that's putting it mildly) family wrestling with these same questions is an early highlight of the summer theater season.
A cast of newcomers to La Jolla Playhouse under the direction of David Cromer brings a breathless intensity to Raine's play, in which deaf son Billy (Russell Harvard) struggles to be heard in a manner most meaningful to him by his parents (Jeff Still, Lee Roy Rogers) and two siblings (Thomas DellaMonica, Dina Thomas) who are in denial and afraid to change. Change is inevitable when Billy meets Sylvia (Meghan O'Neill), who's going deaf and who introduces him to sign language, the catalyst for not only Billy's liberation from isolation but also the redefinition of his family life.
Tribes bravely takes on the controversy within the deaf community over sign language vs. "oralism" while immersing theatergoers in a microcosmic world in which sound and silence are equally profound or frightening. Nowhere in the play is this more stirring than in the relationship between Billy and schizophrenic brother Daniel (DellaMonica), who hears voices in his head. The connection they forge at the end of Tribes punctuates a heart-rending evening, one where silences on stage and in the audience can't be ignored.
Tribes runs through July 21 at La Jolla Playhouse. $15 and up. lajollaplayhouse.org
The term "dramedy," signifying a mingling of drama and comedy, had yet to be coined back when Shakespeare was being so prolific. Had it been, some critic in the Bard's day might have dubbed The Merchant of Venice a dramedy. While the play possesses the familiar devices of Shakespearean comedies—quarreling lovers, cross-dressing, cutting quips—it traffics deeply in themes of prejudice, persecution, revenge and retribution. In The Old Globe's Summer Shakespeare Festival production, Miles Anderson delivers a soaring performance as Shylock, the Jewish moneylender. The full breadth of that performance largely overshadows everything else in this staging (directed by Adrian Noble), lush though it may be.The Merchant of Venice runs through Sept. 28 at The Old Globe Theatre. $29 and up. oldglobe.org
A Bench in the Sun: Two elderly men join forces with a former actress to save their retirement home. Opens July 5 at Broadway Theatre in Vista. broadwayvista.com
Company: A musical organized around a series of vignettes that explore the relationships between an unmarried 35-year-old man and his 10 coupled-off friends. Presented by Cygnet Theatre, it opens July 5 at The Old Town Theatre. cygnettheatre.com
Accomplice San Diego: A different kind of theater happening—part play, part game—courtesy of La Jolla Playhouse's Without Walls program: Audience members arrive in Little Italy and experience the play around them as they walk through the neighborhood and respond to clues provided to them. Runs through July 7. Find details at lajollaplayhouse.org.
In the Heat of the Night: Ion Theatre Company closes its seventh season with the theatrical version of the 1965 novel, 1968 movie and 1988-1992 TV series about racism and criminal justice in the South. Through July 13 at BLKBOX Theatre in Hillcrest. iontheatre.com
South Pacific: Parallel love stories unfold against a World War II backdrop, but it's the classic songs that carry this musical. Through July 13 at Moonlight Amphitheatre in Vista. moonlightstage.com
Tribes: A deaf man raised in a hearing family meets a woman who was raised by deaf parents and is going deaf herself. Through July 21 at La Jolla Playhouse. lajollaplayhouse.com
Carnival: An orphan named Lili joins the circus and becomes the object of an unhappy puppeteer's affection. Through Aug. 4 at Coronado Playhouse. coronadoplayhouse.com