Arts & Events

Theater Review: "Care of Trees" at Shotgun Players

By Ken Bullock
Wednesday June 08, 2011 - 11:43:00 AM

"I submit there are no permanent structures in the idea of Nature."

Care of Trees opens with Travis (Patrick Russell) digging in the earth: "I tried to begin.I can't begin ... " 

The story, told with rapidity, looking back after the crisis, is of an unlikely romance between two young professionals, one an architect from a privileged background, the other a blue collar environmental attorney who's filed injunctions against the architect's developer father, derailed after their marriage by an attack by a radical tree-hugger on the architect, Georgia (Liz Sklar), and her ensuing lassitude and torment, undiagnosed by the medical profession, which leads her to Peru to consult a shaman, devotee of Pachamama, the cosmic earth mother ... 

E. Hunter Spreen's script at the outset seems unusual, employing fast delivery and overlapping dialogue at points where sentimentality and conceptual exposition would normally sugar-coat or blanch such a story. Susannah martin, her old collaborator from Paducah Mining Company, has directed the action on Nina Ball's exceptional set--like a rustic DNA spiral of a domestic interior, with rays of beams shooting out towards the audience, becoming an exterior as well--so that the cast, just the couple of the story, fills the stage with motion and energy. Patrick Russell is ascerbic and dynamic as Travis; Liz Sklar, perhaps better-known in the North Bay, has never performed so well as she does playing the wounded and pensive Georgia. Jake Rodriguez's sound design also adds to the mix with subtlety, as well as the videography (by Ian Winter) of the couple, like home movies, a sweet banality in counterpoint to Georgia's growing plight. 

The problems crop up just after intermission, with Georgia's conviction that she's discovered her fate through the bruja ... the story, like many that concentrate on the personalities of a love story gone awry, slips and slides towards melodrama. The attempt to flesh out a reality onstage for Georgia's fate proves fatal to what's been emerging connotatively from the story as well as to its heroine. This's particularly unfortunate, because Spreen's given Georgia--and Liz Sklar--a good, long monologue, backed by footage of her at the beach, where she ruminates on their life and the break with it in her inner journey ... If Georgia had disappeared from the story at that point, with Travis left, grieving and only able to answer the flat legal questions of events surrounding her disappearance, the image of the split consciousness of the young urban professionals caught in the undertow of their own subliminal guilt and longings, dragged both into themselves, their bodies and outward into the very natural forces they think they're championing, would've emerged and towereed over the sentimental pathos of the romance nouvelle ... 

But the pathetic isn't countered enough with stylization, despite movement in this direction, so a symbolic ending is appended, less poetic than vague, slightly sensational. 

The dialogue, with its interesting experiments, was already leading in this direction from the start, unable to counter the emotionalism it seems to try outdistancing by speed and a kind of dry complexity, making it difficult to follow sometimes, hard to grasp even the most banal details. Unlike the open set which states and overcomes a paradox of inner and outer, and the supple, fluid direction, the script itself seems tight, in need of being looser-limbed, more like the sense of flux in the lives of young adults discovering each other--and the world which, encountered in themselves as well, rives the sentimental bonds romance and self-absorption seem to promise. 

That said, Care of Trees, as play and production, is at work on something ... If its aim proves off, if it misfires, it's still an evening in the theater that's more interesting and thought-provoking than many more celebrated but truly banal plays that throng our playhouses these days.