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Theater review: 'I Am a Tree' at the Lillian Theatre

June 25, 2010 | 12:19 pm
“I Am a Tree,” writer /performer Dulcy Rogers’ new solo show at the Lillian, follows familiar outlines:  a loveless, emotionally isolated woman, torn apart from her mother at an early age, traces the mystery of her origins.

This particular quest is hardly novel stuff.  Despite that whiff of the derivative, Rogers is a thoughtful writer who invests her play with striking lyricism and sincerity. 
The fulcrum of the play is Claire, a sad individual whose purportedly mad mother was institutionalized in Claire’s early childhood, leaving Claire to be raised by her brilliant but emotionally cryptic scientist father.  (Tellingly, he’s currently off in Antarctica studying icebound nematodes – wittily illustrative of his glacial inaccessibility.)  Upon learning that she has three aunts she never knew existed, Claire sets off to get some answers from the now-elderly trio.

Was Claire’s mother truly insane, or did Claire’s father unjustly incarcerate her in order to control her?  Of course, like the old fable about the elephant, the aunts’ opinions depend on their angle of approach. 

It’s that “Rashomon”-like uncertainty that gives the play dramatic heft.  Granted, Rogers’ brusque penultimate character blurs a bit with Claire’s wispier persona. The fact that Claire’ fears about generational insanity are never fully addressed mars the otherwise uplifting ending.  However, under the direction of Bob Koherr, Rogers crafts lushly offbeat and ferociously intelligent characters that range from Auntie Mame extravagance to Gertrude Stein gruffness.  As believable as they are larger-than-life, her gallery of eccentrics is memorable.

“I Am a Tree,” Lillian Theatre at Elephant Stages, 6322 Santa Monica Blvd., Hollywood.  8 p.m. Thursdays-Saturdays.  Ends July 17.  $20.  (323) 960-7711 (cq).  Running time:  1 hour, 30 minutes.

- F. Kathleen Foley

Photo: Rogers in 'I Am a Tree.' Credit: Deidrich Bader