For ‘Tribes,’ a bit of understudy musical chairs

Susan Pourfar and Russell Harvard in "Tribes" at the Mark Taper Forum.
(Gary Friedman / Los Angeles Times)

Audiences who attended Sunday’s performance of “Tribes,” Nina Raine’s play currently running at the Mark Taper Forum, were able to witness a rare bit of understudy musical chairs.

Center Theatre Group said actress Gayle Rankin, who played the the role of Ruth, had to leave the production for a different project. As a result, Meghan Mae O’Neill, the original understudy for the roles of Ruth and Sylvia, took over the part of Ruth.

To fill the role of understudy for Ruth, CTG said it brought in another actress, Sherill Turner.


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The company said that on Sunday, there were signs and slips in the programs notifying audiences that O’Neill would be playing the role of Ruth.

By intermission, the actress who plays Sylvia (Susan Pourfar) was not feeling well and the decision was made that she couldn’t go on for the second act, according to the company.

For the remainder of the performance, O’Neill shifted into the role Sylvia and Turner stepped in as Ruth. The result was that audiences on Sunday saw O’Neill perform two different roles -- Ruth and Sylvia -- in the same performance.

“Tribes” debuted at London’s Royal Court Theatre in 2010 and opened last year at the off-Broadway Barrow Street Theatre in New York. The version running at the Taper was the one seen in New York, which was directed by David Cromer.

The play follows the relationship between Billy (Russell Harvard), a deaf son of hearing parents, and Sylvia (Pourfar), who grew up with deaf parents and is now losing her hearing. Ruth is one of Billy’s siblings.

“Tribes” is scheduled to conclude its run at the Taper on Sunday.


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