an oak tree

12/06/2006 12:00 AM |

An audience member got up to use the bathroom during Tim Crouch’s experimental, two-person-play an oak tree, and all on-stage action stopped. “I’m sorry,” she apologized to actors and audience.
“It’s fine,” writer/actor Crouch assured sweetly, un-ironically from the stage, despite the fact that the interrupted moment was a rare one — in which the audience was relaxed into a suspension of disbelief for more than a spastic, A.D.D. instant. “It’s awkward theater,” he concluded as she left, flustered.

Awkward? Perhaps. But brilliantly so. an oak tree, a piece of meta-theater, is awkward in a way that makes you question why most theater isn’t more awkward.
Crouch is the only constant in an oak tree. He plays a lonely hypnotist who killed a young girl in a car accident and hasn’t dealt with the emotional repercussions. The second actor changes at every performance. Male or sometimes female, they play the deceased girl’s father and have never seen the script before the night of the performance, relying on Crouch’s on-stage instruction.

Crouch destroys the fourth wall at the outset, introducing himself as actor and writer then calling up the second actor (I saw a magnetic Matthew Arkin) informing him of his role and asking if he’s comfortable.
The roller coaster begins. I want to use another word to describe the play’s effect, but it is, in fact, hypnotic. You see Crouch (as Crouch) essentially hypnotize an actor, coach him (sometimes audibly) down the spiral staircase of a narrative with dexterity and gentleness and then slip suddenly into a guilt-ridden, clumsily malicious character.
Crouch conceived a work of militaristically, fascinatingly precise formal elements to explore the near mystical imprecision of human grief.