Growing up white in a small Louisiana town, author Julie Hébert did not suffer from the explicit racism that tormented some of her friends. Though race is the backdrop to Hébert's "Tree," the story is about far more than that. This is a testament to the power of love and family, a love so strong that it defies the stereotyped expectations of those who have come after.
Cathleen Riddley plays Mrs. Jessalyn Price, the aging mother who most of the time spews senile craziness, while Carl Lumbly is her son and caretaker Leo, a chef with aspirations to open his own restaurant. Mrs. Price and Leo live in a house in Chicago, strewn with packing boxes, where Leo's daughter JJ (Tristan Cunningham) takes care of Mrs. Price while Leo is at work.
The Price's world is turned sideways by the appearance of Didi Marcantel (Susi Damilano), whose father has died recently, leading her to the suspicion that Leo is her half-brother from her father's long-ago liaison with Mrs. Price, an unspoken story which carries conflicting connotations for Didi and the Prices.
Or so it seems. Since Didi is white and the Prices are black, many assumptions have already been made. But are they accurate? The truth can be determined only by discovering which of the elderly Mrs. Price's loony ramblings may turn out not be crazy at all.
The show drags a bit in the middle. We're not sure why they keep letting Didi into the house. The nude scene is...weird.
But these are quibbles. We have to let go when we see "Tree," because the story is about discovery, and taking chances, and being willing to investigate our fears, to open our old boxes, in order to move forward and find new meaning in life. It's a journey we all need to take.
RATINGS: ☼ ☼ ☼ BANG
The San Francisco Theater Blog Awards Division is happy to award Julie Hébert's "Tree" Three Stars with a BANGLE OF PRAISE, one star each for acting, directing and story, and a BANGLE for Nina Ball's explosive set. All those boxes on the stage are the real metaphor for this story and we relish our slow discovery as the show surges towards the finale.
San Francisco Playhouse
450 Post Street, San Francisco
Through March 7, 2015