Supporting the Arts in Western Massachusetts and Beyond

August 23, 2016


Barrington Stage Company, Pittsfield, MA 
through September 3, 2016
by Barbara Stroup

Photo by Scott Barrow
In search of a voice, in a family with nothing but the loud and argumentative kind, Billy – deaf from birth – stumbles into his first relationship. Sylvia, from a family of two deaf parents, has at least two fluent voices--- her signing voice, and her English language. Billy’s protective family’s usual chaotic interactions draw Sylvia into the kind of discussion that has permeated the worlds of deafness, education, and ‘rehabilitation’ since hearing aids were invented -- can aids and lip reading provide total integration into a hearing world? And if so, why join the Deaf one? Is sign language inferior semantically? Is it better to be hearing than deaf? 

Nina Raine manages to include these themes and more in her passionate comedy about belonging, self-definition, dependence, family and language and its limitations. The family’s dining table is a stage for chaotic arguments, quickly resolved, which reveal both their self-absorption and their love for each other. Noisy, loud, and rarely tender, their voices spin unheard around Billy, and have done so all his life –they are too busy with ego to take the time to face him attentively and include him in their ranting. Through Sylvia and sign language, he finally expresses need, and is able to find not only love but a new tribe. 

Miles G. Jackson is outstanding as Billy’s older brother Daniel, who fears Billy’s independence even while he fights his own demons. The audience gradually becomes aware of how ill he is, feeling his despair, his powerlessness, his loss and fear. But this play is also a comedy, and the bickering of Billy’s family, played by C. David Johnson, Justine Salata and Deirdre Madigan, gives the audience much enjoyment. When Billy’s growing Deaf awareness finally finds expression, Joshua Castille brings the character’s pleas and frustration to passionate, moving fruition. As she journeys into silence, and as music, laughter, and weeping all become just a roaring rush of sound, Eli Pauley as Sylvia, brings tears of empathy for her encroaching loss. 

The playwright blends many comedic moments with this play’s serious themes, and her frequently angry characters reveal the numerous complexities of just being human. It is a brilliant and moving theatre experience. Barrington Stage’s production is beautifully produced, with an intricately detailed set. Music, and its visual representations, enhance scene changes while responding to the theme. Hearing audiences cannot help but be affected by this glimpse at a silent world.