Review "TREE": Family Rooted in Love & Prejudice

Audio Podcast at ITUNES 
Narrated by Joshua Volkers
At 2433 N. Lincoln
Written by Julie Hebert
Directed by Andrea J. Dymond
Tuesdays through Fridays at 7:30pm
Saturdays at 4pm and 7:30pm
Sundays at 3pm
Running Time: One hour and forty five minutes includes delayed start, no intermission  
Reviewed by Katy Walsh 
Who were your parents before they were your parents?  What were their dreams? Who did they love?  Victory Gardens presents the Chicago Premiere of TREE.  Ray has died.  Jessie has dementia.  The discovery of hundreds of love letters sends Ray’s daughter on a trip. Her arrival on Jessie’s porch is not welcome by the son.  Before they can understand their own relationship, Didi and Leo must figure out what broke Ray and Jessie.  Their 1950’s affair was a controversial race union.  Did a white boy take advantage of a black girl? Did he abandon their biracial baby?  The secret past is hidden in a collection of letters and Jessie’s deranged memory.  Although Didi is desperate to go out on the limb, Leo is inclined not to turn over a new leaf.  TREE is an uprooted family secret that affects many branches.                  
Playwright Julie Hebert designed a puzzle.  Hebert keeps the audience connecting the pieces until the very end.  Jessie sings a song. Later when JJ sings the song, Didi reveals it was Ray’s favorite song.  The linkages effectively create the full picture.  Hebert discloses fragments in the reading of written words and the ranting lunacy of Jessie’s daymares.  Under the direction of Andrea J. Dymond, the past and present collide with poetic madness.  Celeste Williams (Jessie) seamlessly goes from raving crazy to gentle old woman.  Haunted by ghosts, Williams magnificently personas multiple personalities. Channeling an angry man, Williams is particularly hilarious talking about her dick.  Aaron Todd Douglas (Leo) contrasts the kind son with mean half brother.  Douglas endears and agitates with equal passion.  Elaine Rivkin (Didi) is pushy to the point of disturbing.  Rivkin’s ruthless invasion ceases in a vulnerable confession of identity.  Leslie Ann Sheppard (JJ) charms as the bright and lovable granddaughter.  In the final scene, Sheppard sings a beautifully, poignant tribute.
The set designed by Jacqueline and Rick Penrod is a two level house that twists around an imaginary tree trunk.  A limber Williams reinforces the stunning visual as she climbs off the bed and onto branches.  The TREE holds Jessie’s life in memories and illusions.  TREE remembers the budding possibilities of love during a woman’s final season.  This TREE masterfully untangles deep-rooted prejudices one letter at a time.        

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