by Josephine Cashman · August 17, 2015
The Weird Tree, based on a Slovenian fairytale directed by Peter Petkovsek explores the fairytale in a meditative and thoughtful way. It is a piece created by the ensemble using text by Tingying Ma, Peter Petkovsek, Jocelyn Shratter, and Laura Zlatos. A prince scales an yggdrasil-like tree to find his princess, only to find 18 of them. Relying heavily on sound and movement, the cast delves into this tale in surprisingly somber- and humorous - ways.
Divided into 15 short scenes (the play is just over an hour) every member of the 5 ensemble actors plays the Man on his journey. It makes the Man more of an “Everyman” in the universal sense. When the actors are not being the Hero, they are a Greek chorus, victims, persecutors and forces of nature. They are uniformly good, using both subtle and over-the-top physical movements to embody the many characters they play.
The play suffers, however, because it does not seem to know if it is a tragic tale or a funny one. The first half is dark, confusing and more than a little bewildering; all the actors are talking over each other and it is gets so cacophonous that it becomes difficult to hear any actual dialogue. But when the dialogue is understandable, it is lyrically beautiful; “I can tell you I love you in 45 languages” and a Zen like “you are finding a castle which is nowhere to be found.” Many Asian beliefs permeate this fairytale, and while they are captivating, there are times when the actors seem hypnotized and get lost in the ideas. The second half of the play is comedic and much more accessible. The cast uses various lights, balls, and fans to create visually sumptuous scenes.
The Weird Tree is a kind of Pilgrim’s Progress, which makes for an heady experience. Though I’m still not entirely sure what happens to the man and his 18 princesses, I was fascinated the whole time. But if the definition of “weird” is “strange” and “otherworldly,” then The Weird Tree more than lives up to its name.