To Tree Review - Deep Questions Take Root

Lance Newton and Christopher Hart

To Tree, the new play written by Aaron Golden and directed by M. William Panek, involves a mystery of the surreal type.  What would compel a creative, principled young man to no longer wish to be human?  In fact, what would make that same person instead wish to be nothing more than a tree?  The answer to this question is ultimately provided in the satisfying and thought provoking play To Tree

Lance Newton as Julian Fisher

To Tree is about two friends, Peter Claypool and Julian Fisher, who have grown distant since graduating from journalism school.  Peter, a quick talking and cynical type, writes for the Chicago Tribune while Julian has most recently worked for a small magazine.  Peter is reunited with his old friend after receiving word that Julian has improbably planted himself in an Indiana field.  While Julian gradually transforms into a tree, they debate and navigate the tricky road of ethics and friendship.  Issues related to character and integrity also take center stage as Peter slowly pieces together the events leading to Julian’s decision to take root.

Christopher Hart as Peter Claypool

At the heart of To Tree is the relationship between Peter and Julian.  Christopher Hart (Peter) and Lance Newton (Julian) play well off each other.  Christopher Hart especially stands out in his portrayal of Peter Claypool.  In a play that requires more than a little suspension of disbelief, Christopher Hart is thoroughly convincing as a caring, but sometimes ruthless friend.  Lance Newton (as Julian Fisher) took some time to find the rhythm of his role, but shined during the more emotionally charged moments of the play.  His gradual transformation into oak is done well with an emphasis put on his diminished senses.  Together, the two actors fit well into the play.   

The two friends debate life

The dialogue throughout the play is intelligent and convincing.  Besides the previously mentioned issues of integrity and character, the actors touch on race and personal history in a way that never seems contrived.  At times To Tree is funny, but it is never silly and the story is always taken seriously.  The fourth wall is also always respected and I think that this was a wise choice given the small confines of the Heartland Theater.  The cozy Heartland Theater has less than thirty seats and subsequently promotes a fragile intimacy that would probably become overwhelming if an actor were to let down his guard.  The production also makes good use of limited resources as the set design consisted primarily of astro turf and bark wraps.  Lighting and music is used effectively to separate scenes as well as to convey elapsed time. 

To become a tree

Bottom line:  To Tree is recommended.  Not everyone will appreciate this surreal and thought provoking play, but for those willing to give To Tree a chance, they will not be disappointed. 

To Tree is playing at the Heartland Theater from January 12th through January 29th on Thursdays and weekend nights/ days.  Tickets range from $10 (with an industry related ID) to $20.  Street parking is tight but possible and there are a few dining options nearby.  To purchase tickets click on the following link:


All photos provided by the To Tree production.

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