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The Secret Agenda of Trees

This melodramatic portrait of a rural family battling crystal meth addiction never pulls at the heartstrings.

By New York City
Reyna de Courcy, Lillian Wright, and Michael Tisdale
in The Secret Agenda of Trees
(© Ian Carmody)
Reyna de Courcy, Lillian Wright, and Michael Tisdale
in The Secret Agenda of Trees
(© Ian Carmody)
Feeling too often like an episode of The Jerry Springer Show, Colin McKenna's melodramatic The Secret Agenda of Trees, now at the Wild Project, takes audiences into rural America, where hope and opportunity are in short supply. Theoretically, it's a play that should open New York theatergoers' eyes to the concerns of the working class poor in the hinterlands, but instead, it makes one long to close them.

The play takes place in and around the tiny house that Maggie (Lillian Wright) shares with her teenage daughter Veronica (Reyna de Courcy). Maggie bolsters her dreary existence in a local meat plant with trips to local bars and the occasional pipe of crystal meth. When Jack (Michael Tisdale), a drifter that Maggie's met in a bar, follows her home one night, Maggie's meth use increases exponentially. Once Jack has moved in, all the couple seems capable of is smoking, drinking, and having sex, which Veronica can overhear through the paper thin plywood walls.

Unfortunately, Maggie spends increasingly less time paying attention to the ever-hopeful Veronica, who, in some of the play's most awkward moments, writes imaginary letters filled with symbolic language to her gang member-in-training boyfriend Carlos (Christian Navarro) and her brother Dixon (Brian Reilly), a soldier who's serving in Iraq.

Like the trees of the play's title -- which have an agenda of reaching the sky -- it's clear that all of these characters are trying to find some way of escaping their existence. Yet, while it's difficult watching these people make the choices that they do, the play never effectively tugs at the heartstrings. In part, this is the result of the shrill and often shallow performances that director Michael Kimmel has elicited from his cast. Early on, when Maggie and Jack should exhibit some sort of animal attraction for one another, Wright and Tisdale deliver benumbed performances that foreshadow the benumbed shadows they become. Only de Courcy brings much-needed vitality and genuine warmth to her portrayal.

Moreover, there's an important and potentially heartbreaking story at the center of this play, but trying to find it within the forest of McKenna's writing excesses is simply too Herculean a task.


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