Review | Play: The Tree

Streaming available through Sept. 20

By Guy Chapman – Navarro County Gazette

The Tree, the Warehouse Living Art Center’s latest youth production, marks two historical firsts for the Corsicana arts community: It was the debut screening attraction for the Schulman’s Movie Bowl Grille’s newly opened drive-in, and it is the first “virtual” play the Warehouse has ever produced.

This latest one-hour production is written and directed by 16-year old Erin Jones, marking her own debut as a playwright. The youth drama focuses on three teenagers: Jess (Lauren Moses), a popular girl at school with a broken homelife, Ronnie (Erin Jones), a shy but optimistic confidant for Jess, and Ronnie’ older brother Mark (Jeremy Killkenny), who has a not-so-subtle crush on Jess.

The three friends form a connection to each other as they spend their after-school hours under the titular tree. The special location provides a break from their own home lives as they share their insecurities and dreams of the future in hopes of understanding the meaning of their own existence.

For her first written stage play, Jones explores these topics with an experienced nuance. The script registers a self aware sense of humor and an in-depth exploration to the question of why we are here in the first place.

“I wrote this show because I wanted to show that, in real life, there’s not always a happy ending; that life isn’t some fairytale,” Jones said. “However, no situation is hopeless and good can come out of even the worst situations.”

While the play focuses on the three teenagers, the cast is backed by solid performances from the supporting cast. John Kaiser delivers a physical performance of Jess’ abusive father, Cayden McGee well plays the popularity driven boyfriend of Jess. Lauren Briseno and Jay Jones provide sympathy as Ronnie’s parents. 

Bailey Cook, Eve Dixon, Stephen Jones, Jane Collins, and siblings Mae and Bennet Baldwin, round out the ensemble for added depth to the production’s world.

While the play’s digital format lacks the physical presence of seeing the production in a live setting, the filmed performances are tightly paced and well edited. Moses’ spotlighted monologues blend well for scene transitions, and the production’s night shots are clear and well represented. The musical score from Aaron Orsak compliments the show’s pacing throughout.

Fear not, theatre goers: There is a simulated intermission.

“It’s been amazing to watch my piece come to life, and I am so excited to share art with people during this hard time,” Jones said. “It’s insane that I got to see my show on the big screen, and I am so happy that the Warehouse is streaming it, because my family members in different states have a chance to see the show as well.”

The Tree is a well-written sign of its times in an era where crowds are small and numerous events have been canceled for the foreseeable future. It was not lost that the world of live theatre, much like the characters depicted here, are finding the strength to go on regardless of how difficult things can be.

The screening for The Tree is available until Sunday, Sept. 20. Tickets can be purchased here.