One of the enjoyable aspects of being a theater reviewer is getting to view some of the smaller companies and the new and exciting work they bring to the little “storefront” theaters. One of these companies, a fairly new one, The Brown Paper Box Co. ( a strange name, but a bright young company) is now using the intimate Heartland Studio in Rogers Park, to present the World Premiere of Aaron Golden’s “To Tree” a strange little 80 minute story about two college buddies that deals with “change” and friendship. Under the direction of M.William Panek, on a very sparse set by Ian James Anthony with very simple lighting by Eric Phillips and some wonderful original music by James Riley, we are witness to a story about a man who has decided that his life no longer has meaning and that due to what he has done in his life, he is no longer fit to be a human, so he decides to become a tree.
While the premise sounds strange, even insane, as the story unforlds, we bear witness to mush more than a crazy man who’s best friend tries to reason with him about this weird concept. The two actors, Lance Newton, who for most of the play stands in one spot and Christopher Hart, his college buddy are both writers, one in Chicago and the other in a small Indiana town. Julian (Newton) has decided that he can no longer live with what he caused and through “self animation” will become a tree. He has advised a local gardener to call his old college roommate Peter to come and write the story.
What we have in the three scenes following is the discussions between these two men where they examine their very existence, looking at relationships, integrity and even biology. Golden’s dialogue is more than just words, but an honest look at how we view others and how we make judgements based on appearance more than honesty and reality. While there are some funny moments, one would have to call this a “think piece” causing each audience member to re-examine their own thoughts about some of the topics discussed.
What starts out as an inane topic, become a clash of cultures between the two men and not to give away the ending which is quick and abrupt, the soul searching that each man faces is what makes this play work. Each character has to look at their own lives and adjust to the reality of what is right and wrong and how they can deal with what faces them. I was very impressed by Newton and his ability to be able to stand in one spot for almost 80 minutes as we watch his physical changes along with his thoughts. Hart, on the other hand, writes his story and changes his demeanor as well. His ideals change a bit as he watches Julian (Newton) transform from a quiet, brooding man to a tree.
Brown Paper Box is dedicated to creating plays that are thought provoking theatrical experiences with very simple sets, costumes and overall “glitz”, in order for the audience to be able to focus on the playwright’s words. In “To Tree”, they have accomplished this to the ultimate. The production will continue at The Heartland Studion located at 7016 N. Glenwood ( just around the corner from The Heartland Cafe) in Rogers Park, through January 29th with performances on Thursdays,Fridays and Saturdays at 8 p.m.,and Sundays at 3 p.m.