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Falling From Trees - ACTF Review

I am happy to STRONGLY RECOMMEND this new play production of "Falling From Trees" to be advanced to represent KCACTF Region IV competition. However - I would like to recommend that it be considered for the 2008-2009 season.

  As a respondent it is always a pleasure to evaluate new plays, more so when the material resonates with clear and decisive messages that create an impression in the audiences mind long after the lights go down. The IRCC production of "Falling From Trees" creates such an impression and should take its rightful place in the pantheon of this year's most exciting new plays. The instructor and director of the IRCC theatre program has given his students an invaluable acting opportunity through developing this vehicle. The play addresses a myriad of issues relevant to young high schoolers and Mr. Moberg's students find themselves intimately connected to the material through their own  experiences as young teenagers. What better exercise in exploring the depths of personal honesty than to play characters with whom one can closely relate on such personal levels. The rewards of this synergy were more than evident in the production attended last night. The structure of the play is tight, and while I have submitted recommendations below for the play's future development, these young actor's performances held the audiences' attention for a wrapped 75 minutes. No mean feat by any standards. Congratulations to this ensemble for resisting the "lead role" syndrome and offering your audience a completely fulfilling evening of probing, questioning yet selfless theatre. Mr. Moberg did well to condense the play to 75 minutes. The length seems fitting to the number of situations and character revelations that take place during the course of the action.

In staging this production Mr. Moberg together with his Technical Director and Assistant Director make a pertinent decision to rely on minimalism. The central "character", the large banyan tree was represented by a configuration of scaffolding. Whether budgetary constraints were at the bottom of such a decision (what college doesn’t have to face that compromising choice at some time or another), the choice to present the play with nothing but a black surround, central unit of scaffolding and minimal lighting and sound placed a heavy emphasis on the characters and the inter-relationships that comprised the body of the play's intention. The audience suspends its disbelief and enters into an imaginative use of scaffold as the tree. In developing this project for the future I wonder whether the actors and director might not explore the scaffold as branches and shapes of the tree, perhaps making the mounting and climbing a little less easy and convenient to clamber and climb upon. This is something of a moot point - the action was engaging as it was and this suggestion is only an embellishment. The ensemble gave the impression that actors and director worked in great harmony. There seemed to come from the stage a sense of sharing and, awareness and attention to each other as actors. There were some riveting moments of connected honesty that one wished to freeze and not let go of. There were also moments that went by, unnoticed and my advice to all actors is continue to review, even after the show closes, your role and your moments and see if you cannot discover more moments of deeply held suspension - those moments when the audience gasps at the sheer vulnerability of the emotional exchange. Some members of the cast need to reexamine the use of anger or teenage angst as an-only-way-out. This was dealt with in the verbal response following the performance but it is well to remind all actors that anger is a no-win situation and it is imperative to search for emotion-propelled VERBS not adjectives. Re-examine each and every line you say. Keep asking the question; "What am I DOING when I say this?" I thought the play was well cast. While I neglected to enquire about the casting I hope the play was cast against type. From speaking with "Emily" after the performance I was under the impression that Mr. Moberg serves his young actors well with stimulating challenges, not always casting them with easily accessible characters. This is the best kind of training. I got the impression in the post-production session that many members of the cast learned as much about themselves as human beings as they did about themselves as actors during the creative process, and from that point alone the production should be applauded.

I have addressed some of these acting points above. There is one recommendation I would make for the future development of this play and that is to explore, perhaps, more MYSTICISM. Like Beckett and Waiting For Godot, Mr. Moberg has given us mankind's most enduring symbol; the tree and in this case that of the tree of life. To this tree six young people are drawn, either as a safe haven from the world of adult politics, a place of hiding from the law or a place where fantasy can substitute for life's harshest truths. It is a perfect theatrical conceit. Through a desperate attempt to conceal, hearts and minds are revealed. This irony does not go unnoticed by the audience. However, there are several biblical allusions in the play, whether they are intentional or not doesn't matter. Joseph, the mentally-challenged young man is given the name of the carpenter, and the parent who fled with his wife Mary from Herod lest his child (innocence) should be killed. In "Falling From Trees" Joseph is an object for other's hatred and perhaps envy. He is connected to the trees, to the voices of the trees - he follows Emily's belief that they can have a personal and spiritual connection. How interesting if the production moved into that realm of the spirit with lighting shifts while adding an almost Messianic quality to the persecuted Joseph. The sound of the wind through the trees might also support a level of spiritualism - we hear the approaching storm. Perhaps it would not be too much to develop the sound of the wind in the leaves, a sensory factor that could affect each character individually? While I am making these suggestion they are gleaned from a play that inspires development with a solid and compelling foundation.

 This design of scaffolding representing the tree to which all characters are magnetized is simple yet powerful. The second respondent and I both felt that a higher level might possibly work to help define moments in the play that elevated and separated characters, creating a physicalization of the shifting of status that inadvertently takes place amongst the characters. The production worked with the simplistic that it intended and the actors deftly handled the rigors of the horizontal and upright scaffolding bars with consummate ease. As I stated in the first paragraph perhaps with too much ease. More tree climbing problem-solving might have provided the characters with more physical obstacles to overcome allowing them to play into the environment of the play in practical terms. But to all intent and purpose the set and lighting worked well for the play. Less is more was definitely in order.

These responses I have made in the above comments. I do believe that this play, being a new play and a first production has unusual promise and should be considered to advance in the festival. Like all new plays it is a work-in-progress but this particular play is well beyond the preliminary try-out stages of new scripts and is ready to be introduced to a more national audience. Kudos to the director and all members of this very talented company. The IRCC theatre program, as always, has proved that it continues to do good things for theatre training in South Florida.

Phillip Church - FIU Theatre

       
 
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