For the Tree to Drop at PICT Classic | Theater | Pittsburgh | Pittsburgh City Paper

For the Tree to Drop at PICT Classic

A new play moves Antigone to a plantation during slavery days

PICT Classic's premiere of Lissa Brennan's For the Tree to Drop, directed by Alan Stanford, is a pensive show inspired by Antigone — about the only woman in a community willing to bury her disgraced brother.

Brennan (a local playwright and CP contributor) moves the setting to a plantation in the United States before the Emancipation Proclamation. Both brother and sister are slaves. Estella (Siovhan Christensen) spends all of her days digging a hole for her brother Henry under the tree where he was lynched. For the whole show, his body hangs over her, though it's not depicted so literally. In fact, Henry (Justin Lonesome) wanders the stage, a ghost unheeded, trying to comfort his sister. The most graphic depiction of his earthly form is the sound of the rope creaking.

Plainly, For the Tree to Drop is dark. Even the script's few moments of lightness, which were surprisingly sensitively worked in, got nary a peep from the crowd at the show I attended.

click to enlarge Linda Haston and Siovhan Christensen
Photo courtesy of Suellen Fitzsimmons
Linda Haston (left) and Siovhan Christensen in PICT Classic's For the Tree to Drop

Henry's death and Estella's determination to bury him, in the tradition of Greek tragedies, bring strife. The plantation owner, played by David Whalen, forbade Henry's burial, and his agitation at Estella threatens everybody on the farm, who visit Estella to dissuade her.

Every scene is centered on Christensen, who has my admiration for spending the whole 65 minutes digging in a plot of dirt at front stage, as people try to encourage or tempt her away. The role would be exhausting even if she weren't playing a grieving slave.

This is a premiere, so there are a few snags. The script tends toward people talking sideways in relation to what they mean, which isn't helped by the fact that most of the action happens off-stage. That's not necessarily a bad thing, but at the audience Q&A, I was struck by how many people missed essential character beats.

Meanwhile, the show's ending used AV so jarringly that I had to check that it wasn't a technical accident. It wasn't — the production team intentionally interrupted the last line of the play with a bright video and a loud, abrasively mixed song. Using AV in theater is risky business.

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