Treefall Theatre Review - A Thoughful Exploration of Human Nature and Gender Roles


It’s the end of life as we know it. The human race is decimated, scattered, reduced to clusters of scavengers and suspicious strangers; divided between the healthy and those who are infected with the mysterious virus. And in a small mountain cabin below the treeline where crumbling timbers whither and topple regularly, three boys try to be a family.

August (West Liang) was brought to the cabin by his mother somewhere in the past, before Flynn’s mom disappeared. Closer to Flynn’s age, he sees the charade of playing mommy and daddy for the sake of some kind of structure and illusion of safe. He yearns to be free to roam the outdoors, despite the life threatening sun. The classic middle child, he feels neglected and misunderstood a grapples with the physical changes his body is going through.

Brian Pugach (l) & Brian Norris (r) in "Treefall"

                                                      Craig (Brian Pugach) is the youngest, the tween of the trio who relishes in the fantasy world he creates for himself with his baby doll Drew and random bits of stories and literature that he has memorized from the plays and books he acquired during his weekly jaunts to the deserved library with Flynn. The only thing he knows of the world and human interaction is the world that Flynn has carved out for him, and of course the books he reads and pretends to understand.

Flynn (Brian Norris), serves as the great negotiator, the adult voice of reason and patience. As the oldest, presumably, he must protect and care for the other two boys at all costs. The best way he knows to do that is to keep them all together in the cabin his mother brought him to after society began to disintegrate. In an effort to maintain some semblance of civility, so far as he remembers it, he assigns not only chores, but roles that each boy plays. The feminine role defined by whomever is currently wearing his mother’s wig.

Tania Verafield (l) & West Liang (r) in "Treefall"

                                                      The boys seem to be getting by and getting along until he night Flynn and August encounter a stranger while searching for food. Bug (Tania Verafield) is a lone traveler who has found their food cellar and wants nothing to do with them. August, however is thrilled at the new face and convinces Bug to return the cabin with them. There, Bug will find safety, shelter, and be among friend for the moment. Bug agrees and it does not take long for the boys to discover that Bug is actually a girl. Bug’s presence affects them all in vastly different ways: lust, jealousy. However, ironically, Bug’s presence also means the same thing to each boy; the beginning of the end of life as they have known it.

Treefall really is a fascinating look at how a person comes to define his or her roles in life in relationship to gender. In the absence of expose to one or the other, male or female, there may be an instinctual need to compensate for that absence; to fill the void with whatever substitute is available. And in so doing instinctually, roles that are traditionally define within the structure of society as masculine or feminine are simply boiled down to human relationships, human emotions, human contact. Henry Murray has written a tale of sibling conflict, ecological diaster and lost innocence. However, Murray has simultaneously crafted a story that avoids being swallowed by oblivous impending darkness, and even manages to find hope in the most desperate of situations. Well Done.

"Treefall" by Henry Murray now running at Theatre/Theater in Pico

The performances in this show were quite enjoyable. Brian Norris does a wonderful job as Flynn, the boy who is forced to abandon his own childhood and bear the yoke of maturity and responsibility far too soon in his young life. His conflict and vulnerability and unwavering commitment to his "brothers" is palpable. West Liang portrays the character of August with an innocence and goodness that slowly begins to erode against cabin fever and the physical urges that accompany manhood. And yes, despite the initial irritation of Craig's incessant prepubescent whining and schizophrenic doll-talk, Brian Pugach credibly plays the youngest lost boy in this story as a young man who clings to fantasy as a coping device against punishing living conditions, while struggling to create some coherent sense of individual identity and wholeness.

Treefall features a remarkably versatile tiered set that allows this story to travel from mountainside streams to dilapidated food cellar and back to the rickety, claustrophobic cabin that the boys call home. The fragmented radio transmssion transitions and thunderous landslides are nice sound effects touches. The incidental music of Cello-led string sonatas color the mood of this melanchony tale brilliantly.

Treefall by Henry Murray, presented by Rogue Machine is running now through September 6, 2009 at:

5041 Pico Blvd
Los Angeles, CA  90019

July 30, 2009 thru August 2nd:
Thursday thru Saturday @ 8pm, Sunday @ 3pm

August 6 thru September 6th:
Thursdays & Saturday @ 8pm, Sundays @ 3pm

Ticket Information: (323) 960-7774

Photos taken by: John Flynn

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