Somewhere in a humble home back in 1958, Abraham (Charles Anteby) spends a long day at his store only to come home to a house filled with racket. He’s tired from toiling all day and under immense pressure because business is terribly slow, even for the approaching holiday season. And what does he have to come home to? A wife who never has dinner ready by the time he gats home, a daughter who sassies him whenever he is trying to make a point, another younger daughter who can't see that he is too tired to play games after a long day at work and a son who jumps about incessantly playing those blasted pop records, his guitar, or more often than not, both at the same time.
Housewife and mother Susannah (Marcia Walter) has challenges of her own to face each day. She must makes sure the kids are taken care of, cook, clean, and prepare for the coming holidays; all on a shoestring budget. She is the buffer between the father and son, and that is no picnic. It is hinted often that the fighting she has to referee has made her sick in the past. Now, the fighting between father and son has intensified as Malcolm has been given a trumpet solo at the PTA meeting and is heartbroken that his father refuses to attend.
The children of the piece all play iconic roles. The Favorite is Evelyn (Altara Michelle), Dad’s little girl even though she is the oldest. Malcolm (Chris Nolan) is the only son among the four children and his father is determined to make sure that he does not grow up to be a sissy. Dana (Mary Fae Smith) is the classic middle child, always the negotiator, always trying to keep the best peace between everyone in the family. And last, but not least, there is Trina (Tara Hadley) , the blissfully oblivious youngest sibling.
Watching this family was not exactly the best time I had at the theater. They are emotionally and verbally abusive to one another without a second thought. And that behavior is exhibited by the children as well as the adults. This family yells and argues with each other constantly, but then they are singing together at the very next scene. And where as this is how families often are, the tumultuous scenes were so much more convincing that the light ones.
It was never clear to me how old Malcolm was supposed to be. If I knew, than perhaps I could better critique the harshness of his father’s treatment. But I was left wondering because I could not make a judgment of whether he indeed was too old for the childish way he acted out. Is fourteen too old to be crying in his mother’s arms? Is thirteen too young to begin working to contribute to the household income?
I found the script to be redundant, playing out the same arguments between the same characters. I suspect that was a choice to convey the tedium they all feel in their modest lives. There is a great, emotional moment for Malcolm with a hammer on the porch. And all through the second act, I am waiting for the payoff to that rage, that frustration, but it never happens. There are many seeds planted through the play that appeared to be foreshadowing, which in essence are just bait, an unfortunate shortcoming of the promising groundwork of this play. The retrospect bookends were fairly inconsequential, adding no real depth to the piece.
I felt like I was watching a page out of someone’s memoirs, “How I survived my Family”. This was a very specific retelling of a very specific story. I suspect that anyone who is a parent would find this story more engaging than I did. The Leaning Tree is a great examination of how people who actually love each other can miscommunication and be hurtful to one another. Also, the piece highlights the difficulty of knowing the right thing to do when being a parent for the first time. And granted, the story does not take the turns that one would expect. But the major turns that did occur happened through the action and dialogue of the play. I would have loved to see that transformation, that epiphany through Anteby’s performance.
The Leaning Tree is running now through November 11th
Fridays & Saturdays @8pm, Sundays @ 7pm @
Metatheater on Melrose
7801 Melrose avenue #3
Los Angeles, CA 90046
For reservations call (323) 666-6453
Photo Credit: Enci Photography