Summertree, presented by Applebox Theatre Company, uses an intimate space to tell an intimate tale. The play tells a poignant coming-of-age story that is sadly crossed with an end-of-life story. The main character touchingly discovers the realities of family, love, and war, as the story jumps around in time, but in his mind’s eye, remains rooted in space, beneath the canopy of an expansive summer tree. ***Click “Continue reading” below to read full critique!
HE SAID: I was very impressed with the set design by Ryan Gaddis. In the middle of the stage, he constructed an enormous tree, with flowers and real mulch at the bottom. At the top, the tree was made of camouflage mesh used to cover outposts for soldiers, which really worked well with this play that jumped between a soldier’s tour in the field and life back home. Surrounding the audience were long off white drapes from floor to ceiling that, to me, not only created a nexus perfect for a play lost in time and space, but really pulled the audience into the world of the play.
SHE SAID: It was amazing to me that the audience really felt like we were underneath the large canopy of a huge tree during the entire production. The lighting design by Anna R. Kaltenbach and Patrick Severa also interacted beautifully with the huge trunk of the tree, giving it a slightly different character with each lighting shift. In addition, most of the performances were also quite compelling. Unfortunately, one of the performances that could have been a lot more developed was that of Ryan Maness, playing the main character. Though clearly an experienced performer, he was somewhat swallowed by the size and complexity of the role, and so the play never reached the emotional heights that it could have.
HE SAID: Maness seemed to be stuck at a very surface level interpretation of the character. For some reason, he was smiling for most of the show, and there was never a sense of build to any of his emotional high points. It was good for him, and the play, that the rest of the ensemble was as strong as they were. The Father (Greg Christopher), Mother (Leora Hilmar), and Girl (Jillian Wagner) all brought the emotional layers that this show demands from all of its actors.
SHE SAID: I agree that the three supporting characters (named above) were really very moving, and I was impressed with how well they carried forward the emotional stories of the people who were touched by their interactions with the main character. I especially enjoyed Hilmar’s performance as the mother. I thought she was emotionally on point without over-acting at all. I also thought that Jacob Kirlan-Stout, who played the little boy, had some great moments as well, and has a lot of potential to develop into a fine actor.
HE SAID: Wagner, as the Girl, delivered a considerably mature performance. There is a clearly a lot of talent that will hopefully be honed as she heads off to theatre school in New York. The one thing I really wanted fixed in the show was the pacing. There was a lot of “dead space” between thoughts, lines of dialogue, and scenes. If the scenes dovetailed a bit more, and the actors picked up their cues, and really kept the thoughts flowing, the whole show would have had a pace that would have let the show build to higher highs while letting the pensive and still moments have a greater impact.
SHE SAID: One confusing point of the direction had the actors who weren’t in the current scenes walk part of the way through the audience to watch the interactions between other characters. I kept trying to figure out what that symbolized and how that enhanced the scene that was happening, but I was never able to put it together. I’m confident that the directors, Robert Scott and Brenton Daviau, had a strong intention for those entrances, but for me, it never landed in a way that enhanced the telling of the story.
THEY SAID: Although this particular production had elements that hit and missed, we are intrigued with the potential the company seems to possess. Although they’re quite new (started in the spring of 2009), they have demonstrated a hunger for taking on deep, theatrically rich pieces, and for the most part can attract the talent to pull them off. Most of the performances were well executed and the technical elements in the show were some of the best we have seen for companies this size, even rivaling the creativity of larger companies with larger budgets. Perhaps one of the most interesting elements of this new company is their pairing of every production to a non-profit that relates to the subject matter of the show. Art that helps the community is always a great cause to support, and we certainly will be looking forward to their next show.
This show closes tomorrow, but click the banner for more info on the company and future events!