This family is clearly an extreme case, but I wondered whether "Tribes" would have been more persuasive if Cromer had toned down the rackety belligerence. Does Still's Christopher have to be so insufferable? His type exists no doubt in academic and journalistic circles (please don't ask me to name names), but couldn't he have been dappled with a little charisma?

The connection Raine insinuates between Daniel's faltering mental health and the family's dysfunctional mode of communication seems overly literary. Poor Brill is subjected to thematic overload, having to play a character who not only develops a colossal stammer but also starts hearing voices. The strain leaves him hunched and haggard.

The second act gets tangled in plot strands that could easily be trimmed. What rescues "Tribes" is the honest poignancy of Pourfar, who beautifully balances Sylvia's strength and insecurity, and the captivating interior glow of Harvard, who conveys everything he needs to about Billy through his physical bearing.

With actors this emotionally connected, words are secondary. More to the point of Raine's play, hearing is shown to depend more on an open heart than fully functioning ears.

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'Tribes'

Where: Mark Taper Forum, 135 N. Grand Ave., L.A.

When: 8 p.m. Tuesdays-Fridays, 2:30 and 8 p.m. Saturdays, 1 and 6:30 p.m. Sundays. (Please call for exceptions.) Ends April 14.

Price: $20-$70 (Ticket prices subject to change.)

Contact: (213) 628-2772 or http://www.centertheatregroup.org

Running time: 2 hours, 10 minutes including intermission

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