Tom Vigo on “I AM A TREE” at Saint Clements
By Tom Vigo11 June 2012
n Dulcy Rogers’ new one-woman play, I Am A Tree, all the characters speak very quietly – they are consistently, sometimes irritatingly quiet – and we often strain to hear them as we follow a thirty-seven year old woman, Claire, who is discovering her family for the first time. The general volume level might, of course, have to do with the fact that Claire is a naturally quiet person, afraid of almost everything; however, the three other characters that Rogers portrays are, at least in theory, anything but quiet. These are Claire’s aunts, and they are loud, brash people – people who Claire must confront if she wants to learn not only about the mother she never really knew, but also about herself.
The aunts are all very much outside Rogers; she never quite looks comfortable portraying these three eccentric women, with their grand ideas and mannerisms. She switches between naturalism and caricature, sporadically using physical and vocal tics to show us just how eccentric they are, but she never finds a way to fully inhabit the characters and thus bring them to life. It’s hard to blame her, as there are so many details that don’t fit with these women – how does an 80 year old woman give a flawless performance of the Rachmaninoff g minor prelude? How does another fall off a ladder into a glass table and get up uninjured? Even a brilliantly physical realization might not have been convincing in the end. Rogers tries to give these aunts the requisite volume, but she tends to fall flat, save for a few juicy moments peppered throughout (including a good joke about a turtleneck that resembles an oven mitt).
I found myself waiting for the moments where things were supposed to be quiet, because it is in these moments that I Am A Tree most fully comes alive. When playing Claire, a woman seemingly closer in spirit (and definitely in age) to Rogers herself, she presents a more fully fleshed-out persona of a woman ruled by a general sense of fear, but in particular the fear she may fall victim to the insanity (or was it?) that afflicted her mother. Though most of the play is taken up by the three maternal visits, there are brief interludes and asides when Rogers is just being Claire, processing and dealing with quiet emotions in small, and true, ways. These moments make you think that, at the end of Claire’s journey of self-discovery, she just might find what she’s looking for.
Writing Credits: Tom is a writer, musician, orchestrator and arranger currently residing in NYC. He works frequently in the theatre and concert world as a music director, accompanist and conductor. Born and raised in New York, Tom has studied in the United States as well as Paris, France and holds degrees in both musical theory and composition.
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