A unique tree grows in Vegas
By Paul Atreides
Where to begin?
An Oak Tree, by Tim Crouch, now being presented by A Public Fit (APF), according to program notes, “is not an abstract piece of performance art, is not an example of ‘long-form’ improvisation, it is not ‘experimental theatre.’ It is a play.”
From the perspective of an audience member, it is all those things. It’s something you’d expect to see at a festival, like Edinburgh where it first played. It may be your cup of tea, but it may not.
The premise is unique: Two actors will unfold a scripted story. One is a Hypnotist, played by Joseph D. Kucan, who has read the script and is fully rehearsed. The other is “Father,” played by a different actor in each performance (age nor gender matter), who has not read the script, has not been rehearsed, and has not even seen a performance. That is if they aren’t cheating on the process.
How, pray tell, can a person play a scripted character on the fly? By being fed lines and blocking by the Hypnotist through various means; with a script on a clipboard, by verbal instruction, and via earbuds.
The success or failure of the production is almost solely dependent upon how this second role is portrayed; how well that actor can improv, become what they are being instructed to be, to interpret the words they are told to say.
Marcus Weiss played the Father on opening night and did so extremely well. He was in it from the beginning and proved to be the consummate actor, using the entire instrument at his disposal: Expressing in both the physical and vocal. Only at one point, as he described a scene to (an unseen) wife and daughter, did his performance border on the melodramatic and feel out of place.
And, of course, the Hypnotist—as any actor in any play—must be able to react to that. Kucan does an outstanding job, smoothly moving through the evening, encouraging, provoking, and guiding his fellow actor. He’s a hypnotist, director, emcee, and puppet master all at the same time.
But what’s the play about? It’s about a Hypnotist whose abilities have faltered since hitting and killing a young girl, and that girl’s father volunteering to be hypnotized at the hands of the man who caused her death in an effort to come to terms with it.
Okay, you ask, but what’s this about? What’s the point of using an unrehearsed actor? During a podcast interview (APF’s Behind the Buzz), Crouch says something to the effect of, “if you come in with an open mind, if you listen, if you really listen, you’ll get it.” My old Sociology professor would take that statement to the task. Humans as sentient beings will leave the theatre with a myriad of impressions and interpretations. Just as they would with any production. This is why a different person portraying the Father every night will make each performance different. Your takeaway will depend upon what that performance delivers.
But, it’s easy to understand why actors would want to tackle this script. It’s an extraordinary acting exercise. Is it genius? Pretentious? That’s for you to decide. If done well, as it is here, it’s a surprising evening of unique theatre.
For a list of actors portraying the Father, for which performance, click here.
What: An Oak Tree
When: 7:00 p.m. Friday - Monday; 2 p.m. Sundays through February 27
Where: 4340 S. Valley View Blvd, Suite 210
Tickets: $35 - $40 (www.apublicfit.org)
Grade: ***** Irresistible
Producer: A Public Fit; Artistic Director: Ann-Marie Pereth; Producing Director: Joseph D. Kucan; Directors: Ann-Marie Pereth, Joseph D. Kucan; Set Design: Eric A. Koger; Lighting Design: Syd May & Camren Wakefield; Sound Design: Alan Holton; Costume Design: Kendra Faith; Production Stage Manager: Brandi Blackman