OFFBEAT: Steppenwolf ready to welcome 'Tribes' for the holidays

Phil Potempa's daily entertainment news column
2013-11-16T00:00:00Z OFFBEAT: Steppenwolf ready to welcome 'Tribes' for the holidaysBy Philip Potempa, (219) 852-4327

Rehearsals are underway for Steppenwolf Theatre Company's highly anticipated Chicago-premiere production of "Tribes" by Nina Raine, following the hit Off-Broadway production in 2012.

Ensemble member Austin Pendleton is at the helm of what's been hailed by New York City critics as "the best-written, best-plotted, deepest, most daring—and funniest—new play in recent years."

The cast of six features ensemble members Alana Arenas, Francis Guinan and Molly Regan with Steve Haggard, Helen Sadler and John McGinty in the central role of Billy.

McGinty joins the cast direct from Guthrie Theater's production in Minneapolis. "Tribes" begins previews Dec. 5 and opening night is Dec. 15 for a run that extends to Feb. 9, 2014 in Steppenwolf's Downstairs Theatre at 1650 N Halsted St. Tickets are $20 to $82 and on sale now at

It tells the story of Billy's intellectual and proudly eccentric English family, centered around their own tiny empire: private languages, in-jokes and fiery arguments.

And Billy, deaf since birth (actor McGinty, also deaf since birth), is the only one who truly listens. When he meets his girlfriend Sylvia, played by Arenas, he is introduced to a larger Deaf community, which sparks a struggle for self-identity and rebellion against his family. "Tribes" is billed as a sharp, witty story about finding the place where you can be heard—and a family that feels like home.

"When I first read 'Tribes,' I knew immediately that we must produce it here at Steppenwolf," said Artistic Director Martha Lavey.

"I think the play speaks to all of us. It doesn't matter that our family might not include a person who is hard of hearing. The huge struggle in every family, it seems to me, is how to balance the cohesion of our 'tribe' and the imperative of individuality. We are deeply and uniquely known in family. We are also, I would suggest, our own great mystery there."

Steppenwolf Theatre Company is strongly committed to making all subscription and Steppenwolf for Young Adults productions accessible by offering American Sign Language-interpreted, open-captioned and audio-described performances, available for $20 for patrons utilizing these programs and their guests. Steppenwolf was named "Best Accessible Theatre" by the membership of Deaf Illinois in 2011, and was nominated again in 2013 for these efforts. For "Tribes," Steppenwolf builds on this foundation by presenting eight additional performances featuring ASL interpretation or open captioning, donating tickets to area Deaf and hard-of-hearing organizations, and adding captioning for online video content. The 'Tribes' Outreach Committee, chaired by Equip for Equality attorney Rachel Arfa, was also formed to address the opportunities presented by this production.

The production team for Tribes includes: Walt Spangler (scenic design), Rachel Anne Healy (costume design), Keith Parham (lighting design), Josh Schmidt (sound design and original music) and John Boesche (projection design). Additional credits include: Erica Daniels (casting), Michelle Medvin (stage manager) and Christine D. Freeburg (assistant stage manager).

The opinions expressed are solely those of the writer. He can be reached at or (219) 852-4327.

Copyright 2014 All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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