The Man Who Planted Trees

A brief but poignant experience that touches the soul – and plants seeds for action

Into the woods: Rommel Sulit in <i>The Man Who Planted Trees</i>
Into the woods: Rommel Sulit in The Man Who Planted Trees

The Man Who Planted Trees

Sparky Park, 3701 Grooms, 979/255-8292
Through Oct. 20
Running Time: 1 hr.

Hidden away on the edge of Hyde Park, the half-acre Sparky Park seems an unlikely space to encounter actors engaged in performance. But that's exactly what you'll find there through Oct. 20 as the Exchange Artists weave the tale of The Man Who Planted Trees.

As the story unfolds, you realize the many ways in which the park (a former electric substation) is a truly ideal venue for Jean Giono's timeless fable, adapted here by Katherine Craft. At one corner of the park stands a stunning art installation by local designer Berthold Haas that vividly celebrates the tree, as does the performance happening in close proximity. The empty building in the center of the park is reminiscent of the abandoned dwellings of Elzeard Bouffier's isolated valley, an area forgotten by society and deserted except for Bouffier, a widowed shepherd and the title character. Trees dot the park's interior, with interesting detail created in stonework borders throughout. Taken together, these elements provide an especially intimate lens through which to experience all that Craft's adaptation has to offer. It's as though the park has been created by a set designer specifically for this production.

Indeed, the site at which this site-specific work is mounted was the highlight of my experience (perhaps unsurprising, as the Exchange Artists have proven quite resourceful in their use of alternative venues in the past). The cast is excellent, with honest and palpable performances delivered by all five actors. An exquisite original score by Rohan Joseph sweeps the story along, and the sound design is quite outstanding for the physical parameters at play. The performance occurs both throughout the park and within the building at its center, and, once inside, the audience is treated to intriguing projected designs by Katie Rose Pipkin (another highlight in my book). Director Rachel Wiese has assembled a talented team concerned with detail and execution, and her diligence and artistic sensibility are evident throughout.

There are a few caveats worth mentioning: Some walking is required – easy walking for most, to be sure, but enough to pose a consideration for those who are less ambulatory; there are no restrooms on site; and though the recorded narration accompanying the score is in English, nearly all of the dialogue is spoken in French, a choice that I appreciated for its artistic merit but which did make several aspects of the story somewhat difficult to follow, as je ne parle pas français (at least not with any degree of fluency).

The play's crucial message reminds us that "we do not inherit the earth from our ancestors; we borrow it from our children." The Man Who Planted Trees is a brief but poignant experience that touches the soul – and plants seeds for action.

A note to readers: Bold and uncensored, The Austin Chronicle has been Austin’s independent news source for almost 40 years, expressing the community’s political and environmental concerns and supporting its active cultural scene. Now more than ever, we need your support to continue supplying Austin with independent, free press. If real news is important to you, please consider making a donation of $5, $10 or whatever you can afford, to help keep our journalism on stands.

Support the Chronicle  

More Arts Reviews
"Andy St. Martin: The Weight" at Prizer Arts & Letters
In his newest show, the artist is, as ever, nothing if not commitment incarnate

Wayne Alan Brenner, Feb. 26, 2021

<i>The Swallowed Man</i> by Edward Carey
The Swallowed Man
The Austin author's rich and strange take on Pinocchio has Geppetto tell the story from the belly of the giant fish

Robert Faires, Feb. 5, 2021

More by Adam Roberts
<i>When the Rain Stops Falling</i>
When the Rain Stops Falling
Strong writing and a robust cast make Different Stages' production stay with you

July 10, 2015

<i>The Sorcerer</i>
The Sorcerer
The Gilbert & Sullivan Society's latest show may be lesser known, but it still prompts plenty of smiles

June 26, 2015


The Man Who Planted Trees, The Exchange Artists, Sparky Park, Katherine Craft, Katie Rose Pipkin, Rachel Wiese, Berthold Haas, Rohan Joseph

One click gets you all the newsletters listed below

Breaking news, arts coverage, and daily events

Can't keep up with happenings around town? We can help.

Austin's queerest news and events

New recipes and food news delivered Mondays

All questions answered (satisfaction not guaranteed)

Information is power. Support the free press, so we can support Austin.   Support the Chronicle