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Theater review: 'Treefall' at Theatre Theater

August 6, 2009 |  2:00 pm

TF-PugachNorrisLiangVerafie Tales of post-apocalyptic survival are rarely cheery, but even by the genre's downbeat standards Henry Murray's "Treefall" presents a particularly bleak vision.

In its debut production from Rogue Machine, Murray's provocative if sometimes labored four-character drama benefits from finely tuned performances and a spectacularly detailed scenic design (by Stephanie Kerley Schwartz) strewn with the detritus of civilization.

Amid a dying world ravaged by global warming, three unrelated teenage boys have banded together in a feeble semblance of a family unit. As they forage for canned food and try to evade the now-lethal sunlight, the trio face the hopeless challenge of sustaining a social order severed from any meaning or purpose. Without adults to provide mentorship and continuity, parental responsibilities have prematurely fallen on the oldest, Flynn (Brian Norris), who tries to keep order through ritual, invoking memories of peanut butter or chocolate cake at the start of each meal, or "educating" his companions with books pilfered from an abandoned library. His efforts ring increasingly hollow to August (West Liang), who wants more out of life than their cabin shelter can provide. Adolescent Craig (Brian Pugach) enacts fragments of Shakespeare plays whose meaning he can't comprehend, and looks to Flynn for guidance through his emerging sexuality--with disastrous results.

Their fragile triad is threatened by the sudden appearance of a scavenger named Bug (Tania Verafield), a girl. Her disruptive influence triggers the conflicted struggle with sexual identity--freed from constraints of social norms--that lies at the play's heart.

Visually and emotionally gripping, John Perrin Flynn's staging employs ample nudity and graphic violence to heighten the intensity, mining frequent actorly moments from a script that covers a lot of redundant territory (quoting lines from "Romeo and Juliet" gets the cultural disintegration point across the first time;  return visits are really unnecessary). The writing could be tighter and cut deeper, but "Treefall's" edgy, end-of-the-world vibe effectively drives home its cautionary message about the environmental legacy we're neglectfully creating for future generations.

--Philip Brandes

"Treefall," Theatre Theater, 5041 Pico Blvd., Los Angeles. 8 p.m. Thursdays and Saturdays, 3 p.m. Sundays. Ends Sept. 6. $25. (323) 960-7774. Running time: 2 hours.

Photo: (from left) Brian Pugach, Brian Norris, West Liang and Tania Verafield. Credit: Rogue Machine