'Tree' at Chicago's Victory Gardens Theatre Transcends Racial and Cultural Boundaries.

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Celeste Williams as Jessalyn. Photo credit: Liz Lauren.

‘Tree’ takes us on a journey into the deteriorating and
floundering mind of Jessalyn Price as family members try to unravel the
secrets of her past in order to put together the missing pieces of their
family history.

Chicago, Thursday, April 14, 2011. The secrets of a seemingly unlikely family ‘Tree’ evolve with ebbs and flows in the Chicago Premiere of playwright Julie Herbert’s provoking and powerful new play ‘Tree’ that opened Monday night at Victory Gardens Theatre. The 4-character play, set in the early 2000’s, depicts three generations divided by race, culture, time and place.
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Williams, Douglas and Rivkin. Photo credit: Liz Lauren.

The secrets, safely buried in the past, are about to be unearthed when Didi Marcantel (Elaine Rivkin), a white women who is a professor of gender studies from Baton Rouge, LA. arrives on the doorstep of a black family’s Chicago bungalow posing as a reporter from the New Orleans Times Picayune, asking for Jessalyn Price.

Jessalyn’s adult son, Leo (Aaron Todd Douglas), who cares for his ailing mother answers the door.  He knows Didi’s story does not ring true and gets her to admit her real reason for her visit. Didi shares letters, from her recently deceased father, that Leo does not want to see. The letters reveal the love affair that took place years ago between Leo’s black mother and Didi’s white dad that produced Leo–making Didi and Leo siblings. The two have a strained but often humorous dialogue where clues to the past are revealed with surprising twists and turns.
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Williams and Sheppard. Photo credit: Liz Lauren.

The racial and cultural divide separate the siblings but a commonality passed down from the mom’s Southern/Creole roots exists between them and is evident even on the inside of the Chicago bungalow. As brother and sister continue to sift through the addled memories of Leo’s aging mother, conflicting stories arise that change perceptions of the past and reveal  new truths.

The play rings true on many levels. Grounded in realism, it examines the internal and external worlds of the characters exposing contradictions, paradoxes and absurdities.

Director Andrea J. Dymond has created a realistic and poignant interpretation of Herbert’s play.  She has employed a highly skilled cast that play their roles with a humanistic sensitivity. Celeste Williams as Jessalyn, is a pro who makes you want to understand and feel while she breaks your heart with her plight. Arron Todd Douglas (Leo) gets it just right, with his love for his mother and daughter, but a  fear of learning about who he really is.  The highly talented young actress, Leslie Ann Sheppard plays Leo’s daughter brilliantly.  Elaine Rivkin (Didi), a veteran Chicago actress, is the perfect foil for Leo’s insecurities with her own insecurities.

About the Playwright.
Julie Herbert started in theater as a director but has gone on to write many successful plays including ‘Touch the Water” ‘The Knee Desires the Dirt (Pen Award)’, ‘Almost Asleep’, ‘True Beauties’, ‘Abe Lincoln’s Dog’ and others. Her work has been adapted for film and television.

Regular run.      Tree runs from April 13 through May 1, 2011. Tickets are $35 – $50 and are available online at Victory Gardens Theatre or at the Box Office at 2433 N. Lincoln Avenue, 773 841 3000.

Running Time.
1 hour and 30 minutes, no intermission.

$11 valet parking is available for all performances except weekday matinees.  Discounted parking is available one block south at Children’s Memorial Hospital for all shows except weekday matinees.  Metered and street parking is available, but make sure to check the signs for neighborhood parking restrictions.

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