Trees Like Nails
nytheatre.com review by Edward Elefterion
August 13, 2008
There's a body in the woods behind the 7-Eleven. Various characters discover or are related to her. Ultimately, her demise at the end is supposed to be poignant, but Trees Like Nails never penetrates the clichés that make up its world. Though described both as a drama and a comedy, it is neither moving nor funny.
There's not much of a plot to Trees Like Nails. In fact, the title is the only really intriguing element of the production. I can't tell you what it means but it's an interesting simile. I can tell you that playwright Will Snider is interested in familial relationships, with two pairs of siblings making up four of his six characters (seven if you include the body, who does occasionally stir and moan for help). Snider also seems to be interested in violence, as there's a good amount of stage combat required of the production. But neither theme is ever developed. Maybe Snider's stereotypically dreary suburb is the overriding theme that is supposed to hold everything together, but it doesn't. His suburb is dull and the thinly drawn adolescent stereotypes that live there are equally tiresome.
The play opens with Robbie a "retard," played with energetic innocence by Jack Moore, leading his not-so-big brother Frank, played like a schoolyard bully by Josh Breslow, to something "really pretty" he found in the woods. (Sarah Hartmann played the "really pretty" body in the woods at the performance I attended; apparently there are two actors who alternate in the role.) Next we meet RayRay, the body's boyfriend and cuckold, who soon drowns his sorrows with Wild Turkey and pukes to prove it. (Yes, on stage. Fortunately, this happened on the floor so close to the audience that I, sitting in the last row, didn't actually see it happen...but did walk by it on my way out of the theatre.) Thomas Anawalt clearly has fun playing RayRay and makes the most out of the disgust he feels when his precocious younger sister, Tracy, asks him to kiss her on the lips. Cally Robertson keeps Tracy from becoming whiney but she still has to play her as the preteen who wants sexual attention from boys (even if it's her brother), quickly going into the woods to "see something cool" with a bad boy who manhandles her within minutes of meeting her. Then there's the final pair of caricatures, the thinnest of the bunch: Ford and Greg. Ford distributes drugs, Greg pushes them. David Gerson as Ford uses his natural physical bulk to play the violent thug who puts Greg in his place by smacking him and taking his cell phone away from him, which might be funny if it was of any real importance to either character. Kendale Winbush is refreshing as Greg, playing his part with a measure of subtlety. But what exactly is his role in the story? How are this duo connected to the girl in the woods? Let's just say that the pretty body got around quite a bit and must've been just as bored as everyone else in the play to spend so much time getting high and misbehaving behind the 7-Eleven.
Deanna Weiner's direction is as flat as the script, and the lighting design, also by David Gerson, wouldn't look half as bad if the actors could find a way to stay away from the dark areas. Gerson gives them lots of light to play in, but somehow they manage to straddle the edge of it, effectively cutting their heads off in the shadows.
The cast should be lauded, however, for approaching the material with such commitment. As an ensemble, their energy and belief in the play are what keep it alive.