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A Moving Production of Julie Hebert's Tree
San Francisco Playhouse

Also see Jeanie's reviews of Clybourne Park, Build and Eurydice and Patrick's review of X's and O's (A Football Love Story)


Susi Damilano, Cathleen Riddley and Carl Lumbly
San Francisco Playhouse is currently presenting a thought-provoking production of Julie Hebert's dream play Tree. This drama involves two families: the Prices, an African-American family from Chicago; and the Marcantels, a white family from Louisiana. Under the careful direction of Jon Tracy the play begins with Mrs. Price (Cathleen Riddley) rocking in a chair, singing a song in her home in Chicago. On the sprawling interesting set by Nina Ball we also see Didi Marcantel (Susi Damilano) reading letters from Mrs. Price to her late father that relate a passionate romantic relationship.

For Didi, the man in the letters doesn't match the father of her understanding, who was a belligerent racist, and she has traveled to Chicago to find out why. She knows that Mrs. Price had an ardent love affair with her dad and that she was the product of that love affair. She knocks on the door of the Prices' home and so begins a long confrontation with the son of Mrs. Price, Leo (Carl Lumbly), who is apparently unsympathetic to Didi. He tries to prevent her discovery and keep his own past covered.

Tree reminds me of a Tennessee Williams drama with a little of Sam Shepard. The 90 minute no intermission piece is poignant, erudite, genuine, and clearly grounded in sympathy.

Jon Tracy has cast this show superbly. He honors the poetry and pushes his cast away from schmaltziness. Every performance is strong. Lumbly plays the role of Leo as guarded and sardonic. He creates a relevant and sympathetic character. In direct contrast is Cathleen Riddley as Mrs. Price. Her portrayal of the character's dementia induces both shock and sympathy. This is a brilliant tour de force of acting. Appearing late in the show, Tristan Cunningham as Leo's daughter JJ provides a stimulating change in the play's energetic. Rounding out the small cast is Susi Damilano playing Didi. Her attempts to adapt to Leo's so called hospitality are consistently entertaining. Susi Damilano and Carl Lumbly have wonderful chemistry together.

The play is beautifully produced. Nina Ball's set with moody lighting by Michael Oesch is almost a character in itself. It gives the audience a dream effect with Mrs. Price's bedroom located on the second tier of the set.

Tree runs through March 7th, 2015, at San Francisco Playhouse, 450 Post Street, San Francisco. For tickets call 415-677-9596 or on line at www.sfplayhouse.org. Coming up next is Aaron Posner's Stupid Fucking Bird opening on March 17th and running through May 2.


Photo: Jessica Palopoli


Cheers - and be sure to Check the lineup of great shows this season in the San Francisco area

- Richard Connema



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