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Tim Crouch
Tim Crouch
While reality shows routinely replace sitcoms on T.V, the prevalently held assumption remains that the theatre is immune to this kind artistic perversion which calls the whole notion of Art into question. An Oak Tree is one soon-to-be defunct show that exposes the ugly truth of a theatre without its fourth wall.

Tim Crouch is both the star and the writer. The actor playing the only other character that plays opposite Crouch changes each performance. I saw Carolyn McCormick. The roster of other performers has included F. Murray Abraham, Charles Busch, Reed Birney, James Urbaniak, Alexandra Neil, Katie Finneran and Tovah Feldshuh. Whatever the second actor's gender, he/she plays a father whose daughter has been inadvertently run over and killed by Crouch's character, a hypnotist. The father seeks the hypnotist's help in coming to terms with his daughter's death which he has not fully accepted.

The actors are not required to improvise but instead repeat lines fed to them by Crouch verbatim. The overall effect is dull and repetitious in practice, though its self consciousness is ostensibly witty. Yuppies leaving the theatre after a long hour and five minute performance were heard griping that the performance simply was not theatre.

While one audience member walked out in the middle of the performance, many of the mostly young urbanites of the starving artist/ struggling actor strata enthusiastically shake Crouch's hand after the performance and marvel at his "genius."

Crouch's performance about performance is interrupted a number of times with the characters bleeding back into the actors playing them. This tends to be confusing, and would be more jolting if the actors had a chance to more fully immerse themselves in their characters instead of reading answers to Crouch's questions off a notepad. One interchange (Crouch: "Don't you think it's a bit contrived?" The read response: "It's hard to tell from here" is almost too easy to use as a succinct sumup of his play. Thoughs Crouch himself has said that his play is no more contrived than any other play but, i f anything it is less so, since it isn't rehearsed.

While it's interesting to be privy to this impromptu performance style the result most closely resembles as acting workshop or script reading, with the magic of the theater's wonderful, transporting qualities swallowed up in the quasi intellectual musings on the art. In this ruminating mode, the hypnotist quickly becomes a stand in for a director while the father, once hypnotized, becomes an actor, unable to separate life from art. Mainly, the play is beside the point. The title symbolizes the father's inability to come to grips with the loss of his daughter, whom he sees immortalized in an oak tree. The character is given the vaguely poignant line, addressed to his wife (inexplicably played by Crouch), in a scene which may or may not be a part of the hypnosis. "It's not tree anymore, I've changed it into Claire," the father says, referring to their deceased daughter — adding "You're not looking." This explains the title, but little else.

Even with Crouch's constant explanations and the scripted questions read by the other actor, , the play is somewhat inscrutable. An Oak Tree never allows audience members to lose themselve in the play, but forces them to remember that they are an audience watching actors act. For struggling actors who can relate to this method of performance, perhaps the play does possess some spark of genius which has extended the play's run. However, there were apparently enough people like this reviewer, for r whom this is an example of a theatrical emperor without clothes, to make the plans for an open-ended run overly optimistic.

An Oak Tree
Playwright: Tim Crouch
Co-Directed by Tim Crouch, Karl James and A Smith
Cast: Tim Crouch (Hypnotist) for the January 9th performance, Carolyn McCormick (The Father)
Running Time: 65 minutes, no intermission
Barrow Street Theatre 27 Barrow Street, near Seventh Avenue.(212) 239-6200
From 10/27/06 to 1/14/07; opened 11/04/06.
Tickets: $45
Reviewed by Miriam Cohen based on January 9th performance.
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