BWW Review: AN OAK TREE at Theatre Exile
I can tell you this much: the production of An Oak Tree I saw at Theatre Exile will not be the production you see.
There are two characters in the play: a hypnotist (Pearce Bunting), played by an actor who has been rehearsing the show for weeks, and a nightly guest star, who comes in without knowing the script at all. Through the hour production, the hypnotist instructs the guest through their lines.
I saw Grace Gonglewski as the guest, who takes on the role of a grieving father whose daughter was killed by the hypnotist. She does not look the part of a "six foot two" balding father, but performs the lines (which she receives in front of our eyes) as him. The audience is supposed to feel the father's pain and connect with the plot.
As the show progresses, the script jumps more and more in and out of real life -- two actors playing a part -- and the father/hypnotist discussing the death of the young girl.
When the audience sympathizes with the father, it becomes apparent that it is easy to feel things that aren't real. This is the staple of acting and scriptwriting: you go see a show so that you can feel something, even if it's all made up.
However, the play was not written sentimentally enough for me to truly understand the father's anguish. Although the hypnotist and the father are going through extremely troubled times, this plot is too often interrupted by the truth: that they're both actors.
The end result is a choppy script with a well-meaning theme that is not well executed. The actors ask repeatedly, "do you understand?" For me, and many others in it, the answer is no.
Despite a confusing end, again, this production will never play the same again. Upcoming guest actors include the likes of Zosia Mamet, Paul Giamatti and Philly favorites like Leonard C. Haas and Catharine Slusar, who each have an opportunity to bring a different angle to the father role.
An Oak Tree runs until March 10, and tickets can be purchased HERE.