I Am A Tree, now playing at St. Clement’s, follows the journey of a woman, Claire, as she tries to understand the mother she has never meet.
Claire is afraid she might become her mother’s daughter, a concern since her mother has been institutionalized for as long as she can remember. Claire is worried about how much of her mother’s condition is medical and, therefore, possibly genetic. Claire’s father, who is distant both physically and emotionally, isn’t much help. He doesn’t want to discuss what happened to Claire’s mother. So when she finds a letter that revels 3 heretofore-unknown sisters of her mother, Claire embarks on a visit to each woman.
Dulcy Rogers plays Claire, and each of the 3 Aunts in this piece. Each one of her mother’s sisters provides a glimpse into a different aspect of Claire’s mother. It is an interesting idea on how people project their own personalities on others, and how time warps our memories. For Claire, who wants a simple picture of her mother, and to understand the single catalyst for her mother’s mental problems, the visits add up to a frustrating experience. She can’t pinpoint a single moment at which her mother tripped from independent and eccentric to crazy and committed.
Ms. Rogers’ performance word be better served by less turning between characters mid-conversation. It is a bit distracting having her peer this way and then that to portray characters. Her gestures, voices and carriage combine sufficiently to bring each character to life, and the physical whipsawing is distracting. Adding a second actress to play Claire, as Ms. Rogers plays the other characters would have helped immensely.
However, even with that qualifier, I Am A Tree is a funny and heart-tugging story. Ms. Rogers brings the story to life with a dry humor that is infectious. Claire’s Aunts are an imposing set of women, well spoken with rich life experiences. The set, a forest of tree trunks, with frames interspersed throughout, is marvelous. Do the individual trees create a complete forest, or do they block Claire’s real answer from view? Set design by Neil Patel and lighting design by Yael Lubetzky combine excellent to bring a wonderful depth to the show.
Director Allan Miller might have paced the story a bit better. The show tends to slow down towards the end. The peace which one finds in “quiet, introspective moments” plays better in real life than on stage. But I Am A Tree stays with you long after you leave the theater, raising the question of how people will remember us. It is a thoughtful question, poised gently.
I Am A Tree
Playwright: Dulcy Rogers
Director: Allan Miller
Cast: Dulcy Rogers