The Tree Play

For this story of a rain forest over a lifetime, Robi Polgar created a living, breathing poem

Safe among the branches: April Perez Moore (center) and cast members of <i>The Tree Play</i>
Safe among the branches: April Perez Moore (center) and cast members of The Tree Play

Some spend too little time considering our ecological footprint. Some spend too much. The Tree Play, nurtured from seedling to sapling and beyond by writer-director Robi Polgar, clears a path through the passion and the politics of deforestation and conservation, leaving us with a moving piece about the fragility of our symbiosis with nature.

To call it a "workshop" would be a dis­service. We were clearly seeing the beginning of something – the birth of an idea yet to grow and mature, though fully realized for its current purposes. Polgar had his cast literally breathe life into the play before leading us from the lobby into the performance space at Ground Floor Theatre, where we sat along the perimeter of a clearing in a suggested rain forest. Once inside, we were enveloped by carefully crafted design elements mixing with skilled and invested performances to create a tangible theatrical ecosystem. Ia Ensterä's sparse but brilliant representation of foliage and canopy gave us just enough to feel where we were, but not so much that we were drawn into the design rather than the performance. Lowell Bartholomee's sounds echoed the subtle chorus of forest noise, cradling us in our own auditory sense until a particular moment exploded us out of our bubble of safety. The lighting, by Jennifer Rogers, appropriately captured the sun's struggle to pierce the dense growth around us, making each ray of light a gift. Buffy Manners' costumes worked very well, particularly for those actors portraying trees – part human, part spirit, part nature, each with its own identity and soul.

The word "play" in the title was possibly a misnomer. Polgar created for us a living, breathing poem: a 45-minute escape of spoken word in motion, telling a compelling story of the rain forest over a lifetime. The "tree" of the title, played at the start by Susan Peter­son, Bird Caviel, and Blake Robbins (and later joined by most of the remaining cast), was constantly in motion, blown both gently and ferociously by the winds of Toni Bravo's stunning choreography. April Perez Moore effortlessly embodied the girl, whose protective relationship with the tree and the forest (along with other characters throughout her life) was the core of the story. Kevin Gates was nurturing and strong as the girl's father, while Jona­than Salazar and Huck Huckaby gave notable turns as a love interest and a journalist, respectively. The remainder of the cast – Nathan Porteshawver as a logger and John Grewell, Toni Baum, and Corinne Franks Oh as the tree chorus – were ever-present in our surroundings, moving and providing the white noise of the forest in an engaging fashion.

Billed as an "agit-prop folk tale," The Tree Play contained its share of fairy-tale whimsy and magic. Some may have found themselves hungry for more substance, a little more detail. I submit that if this piece were even one minute longer or contained one more well-made element, it would cease to be what it is. Polgar and his team gave us just the right amount of experimental and activist theatre, and if you didn't see it, you unfortunately missed out on what was the start of something wonderful.

The Tree Play

Ground Floor Theatre, 979 Springdale
Aug. 7

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 Robi Polgar
Getting Political With <i>The Tree Play</i> and <i>Robin Hood: An Elegy</i>
Getting Political With The Tree Play and Robin Hood: An Elegy
Two new Austin plays tackle timely subjects

Robert Faires, Aug. 7, 2015

Hang the DJ
Hang the DJ
The new political theatre wants you to join its messy, sexy conversation

Katherine Catmull, Jan. 20, 2006

More Arts Reviews
Austin Playhouse's <i>Copenhagen</i>
Austin Playhouse's Copenhagen
In the conversations of this Michael Frayn drama, we learn that history is broken, just like us

Laura Jones, April 19, 2019

Zach Theatre's <i>Matilda the Musical</i>
Zach Theatre's Matilda the Musical
With its memorable characters and energetic performances, this production connects adults with their inner child

Trey Gutierrez, April 19, 2019

More by Shanon Weaver
Zach Theatre's <i>Heisenberg</i>
Zach Theatre's Heisenberg
In Simon Stephens' play, we observe the unlikely pairing of two people as an experiment in risk and change

July 6, 2018

<i>Booth's Richard III</i> by the Hidden Room Theatre
Booth's Richard III by the Hidden Room Theatre
Beth Burns and company unearths a fascinating theatrical time capsule with this version of Shakespeare's tragedy

June 22, 2018


Robi Polgar, Ia Ensterä, Lowell Bartholomee, Jennifer Rogers, Buffy Manners, April Perez Moore, Huck Huckaby, Kevin Gates, Jonathan Salazar

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

Updates for SXSW 2019

All questions answered (satisfaction not guaranteed)

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