California-based Natasha Mercado (who was awarded this year’s George Wallace producing scholarship) boasts beautiful brown bark and gorgeous green leaves, and gets to live in a groovy grove suffused with grounded, chill vibes. But she’d really rather replace her roots with dancing shoes and become a human, so she can be hated and admired instead of constantly converting carbon dioxide. Standing before an elementary school play backdrop of burlap boughs, Mercado’s Tree endows audience members as babbling brooks and baby birds, before showing off her most prized possession: a human-made music box.
Mercado’s uninhibited play-acting at being a person — going on a disappointing date, building a bonfire from bitchy branches, or solving a murder — might make you reflect on your own relationships to fellow foliage-folk, after you recover from laughing. Defying conventional categorization, Tree is a playful pastiche of clowning comedy, audience participation game show, and existential group therapy session. Even if you’re averse to improvised interaction, you’ll get sucked in by how fully invested Mercado is in every second of semi-scripted absurdity.
Long before the twisted yet oddly touching tragicomic finale, which sees the audience rapturously applauding Tree’s agonizing demise, this show stakes its claim for the textbook definition of “Fringiness.” Don’t miss this delirious deciduous delight, if only to finally learn the answer to the eternal question “If a tree falls in a forest, does it make a sound?”
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