Theater Review: Trees Like Nails
Written by Bwog Staff
Theater correspondent Sam Reisman reports back on Trees Like Nails, the latest from prolific campus playwright, Will Snider.
There’s a whodunit buried in the premise of Will Snider’s Trees Like Nails—the body of a young girl, beaten nearly to death, is discovered in the woods. But what unfolds isn’t an open-and-closed investigation into the particulars of the crime; a mood, not a mystery, infects the characters connected to the body and drives the engine of the play. It’s a remarkable piece of original student theater, finely written with an ear for caustic humor and quiet sadness, superbly acted by an ensemble of strong performers, and directed by Deanna Weiner with an energy and inventiveness that breathes thrilling new life into the old Lerner Black Box, where the production played last weekend.
The play is most successful at creating an atmosphere of gloom and inertia in its small-town setting, where the body is, more than anything else, a break out of the mundane, and, for some, even a cause for hope. The production is aided immeasurably by David Gerson’s exceptional lighting design, which carves a suburban dead zone out of the theater with stark columns of white light and paints the nearby woods with a haunting palette of blues, greens, and erratic shadows.
There are a few lapses in narrative logic in the overall construction of the plot (one act of violence seems motivated more by dramatic fancy than the reality of the situation), and tempers flare into screaming perhaps one too many times. However, in many of the quieter moments, Snider demonstrates a undeniable knack for capturing the tenor of a night spent chatting, drinking, and smoking away idle time in the company of his aimless twenty-something and teenage characters.
Each scene unfolds with a serene clarity that exposes, first, the characters’ casual cruelties and, later, their hidden pains. As the story develops, Snider’s script peels away crass veneers to reveal deep-seated longings, balked hopes, and unspoken anxieties. Punk wannabe Frank’s (Josh Breslow) litany of vicious and homophobic slurs leveled at his younger brother, Robbie (Jack Moore), segues, by play’s end, to an expression of something like affection for the insecure young girl (Cally Robertson) he’s picked up at 7-11.
Breslow and Robertson perform their scenes with a charmingly understated sensitivity for their characters’ situation. Thomas Anawalt brings dignity and pathos to the smoked-out, perpetual loiterer RayRay, smitten with a girlfriend who doesn’t return his calls, wasted on booze and pot, blubbering about the pain of unrequited love within inches of his own vomit. Gerson brings muted charm and menace in equal doses to the role of the drug runner Ford, who utters, with a wicked grin, what may be the play’s most exemplary line: “We’re all bad, but I like you.”
Trees is almost certainly best experienced onstage, but in case you missed the production last weekend, there will be a workshop reading at the School of the Arts tonight at 7:00 pm in Dodge 603.
– Graphic by Emily Cheesman