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I Am a TreeBy Paulanne Simmons
I Am a Tree premiered in Los Angeles in 2010 and has had several productions since then. Claire, a 37-year-old woman is trying to understand her mentally disturbed mother by contacted the mother’s three long-lost sisters. Her journey is given urgency by her fear that her mother’s brand of insanity may be hereditary, in which case she would transmit the disease to her children.
The premise is certainly fascinating. The opportunity of playing three very different, very eccentric old ladies — Aurella, an ambassador to the U.N. who is fixated on opera; Lillian, the foul-mouthed chocolate-lover; Lou (never Louella), the gruff and brutally honest journalist — might be the perfect formula for a tour-de-force performance.
In many ways I Am a Tree does fulfill expectations. Director Allan Miller keeps things running smoothly and Neil Patel has created an intriguing, if not very relevant, set of birch tree trunks and picture frames. Rogers holds her audience’s interest for the full hour and forty minutes.
But the mind does stray.
Rogers has not mastered voice and gesture well enough to keep her characters totally separate. Claire and her aunts sometimes seems to meld into each other. Although each aunt remembers Claire’s mother in a somewhat different light, Rogers appears more interested in their idiosyncrasies than their relationship to Claire’s mother or Claire's quest. Little is resolved, which makes a satisfying ending pretty near impossible.
The biggest problem, may be simply that the play is just too long and repetitive. The aunts are all predictably outrageous, whether they are demanding that Claire sing an opera or insisting tjat she take off a soiled shirt so the maid can wash it. The final scene is unnecessary.
Rogers has a wonderful ability to use words to create pictures of people and places. But she seems unwilling to leave her audience with any blank spaces in which to imagine what might have happened. Her obsessive use of details creates a wearisome overload. According to Rogers she originally conceived the play to be performed by multiple actors. But after her actors cancelled before a workshop reading, she was left to play all the parts herself. This is unfortunate.
Though Rogers says the audience liked I Am a Tree as a solo show, one cannot help but wonder how much more depth it might have had with the contributions of other actors to further developed those batty aunts. It would be great to see her and Miller hand it over to a complete cast so they could more easily see where the script needs to be cut or developed. I Am a Tree is a traditional play waiting to come out of a solo show.
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