Ensemble Theatre Cincinnati triumphs with “Tribes”: Powerful acting, stunning design and spot-on directing make “Tribes” a must-see

By: Katherine Colborn ~Managing Editor~

Ensemble Theatre Cincinnati’s production of “Tribes” is so full of thought-provoking material, it’s almost overwhelming.

The sharp banter, obscene insults and brutal British humor are trademarks of this brilliantly funny and meaningful show that explores the issues of identity and community in both specific family and cultural settings.

The story centers around a young man named Billy who was born deaf into a hearing family. The youngest of three children, Billy lives at home with his two adult siblings, and most of the scenes take place in their boisterous, argumentative and intellectual household.

Billy was never taught sign language and grew up lip-reading, attempting to keep up with a family that never slows down. Their family dynamic begins to change when Billy meets Sylvia, a woman born into a “capital-D” Deaf family and though hearing, is slowly losing her auditory senses.

The play questions methods of communication, the role of language in shaping identity and the way collective groups of people — families, friends, cultures — influence the development of each. Director Michael Evan Haney has clearly worked hard to build one of the greatest shows of the season.

The set, the dialogue and the performance are so true to life that the audience members will have a hard time remembering they’ve come to the theater at all, thinking instead they may be visiting a cluttered and cozy British home.

Tribes Ryan Kurtz
Dale Dymkoski as Billy and Kelly Mengelkoch as Sylvia in Ensemble’s “Tribes.”

Brian C. Mehring, the show’s set and lighting designer, deserves an award for creating such a lifelike and meticulous set — every corner of the stage was given attention and consideration, from the magnets on the fridge to the coats hanging behind the main sitting room. The attention to detail in the creation of this set was nothing short of incredible. The cast, much like the setting, exceeded expectations.

Every character in “Tribes” is multi-faceted, and this cast explores those complexities with a raw and determined energy. The family dynamic between the characters is shown in every subtle glance and every sweeping gesture. Ryan Wesley Gilreath’s performance is one of the highlights of this play.

His interpretation of Billy’s brother Dan constantly and fluidly expands. Another performance worth mentioning was that of the funny Amy Warner, who played Beth, the mother of Ruth, Dan and Billy. Dale Dymkoski, who starred as Billy, was regrettably a little too stiff. Though his character may not have required the same type of animation as his stage family, his portrayal of Billy lacked the same level energy, animation and complexity the rest of the cast demonstrated.Tribes hands ensemblecincinnati dot org

Kelly Mengelkoch, an actress who has shared the stage with Xavier students in the fall production of “The Crucible,” played the part of Sylvia. Her work on stage may strike the audience as overdramatic at first, but as the story’s plot develops and conflicts arise, her performance becomes increasingly captivating and deeply moving. Ensemble Theatre Cincinnati’s production of “Tribes” is worth seeing not just once but several times. The directors, producers, designers and cast proved themselves not only talented but thoughtful.

We Give this show an awesome 5/5!!!!