‘The Trees’ Off Broadway Review: The Title Rhymes With Twee

Trees aren’t the only things that don’t move in Agnes Borsinky’s new play

Chelcie Parry

A brother and sister are walking home through the park one day when their respective feet, all four of them, remain stuck to the earth. They cannot move and soon find themselves the object of media attention, which quickly fades as other bizarre phenomena grab the headlines to replace them on the tabloids’ front page. The two siblings are eventually charged with vagrancy, since the park rules do not allow anyone to spend the night there.

That’s when the brother and sister get an idea: What if they register themselves as trees? Will that make everything OK? Slowly, old friends and relatives, as well as complete strangers, befriend the park’s newest “trees” to take care of them. These human plants don’t do anything – they are waited on hand and foot — but they provide the invaluable service of creating a community.

On Sunday, Playwrights Horizons and Page 73 Productions presented the world premiere of Agnes Borinsky’s “The Trees” at the Mainstage Theater.

Watching this 105-minute one-act play, you probably won’t stop to consider how the brother (Jess Barbagallo) and sister (Crystal Dickinson) are able to defecate in the park, but that question is answered about half an hour into “The Trees.” Why their grandmother (Danusia Trevino), who is not a tree, erects a tent nearby and only speaks Polish while with them – there is a lot of Polish spoken in “The Trees” – is not explained. (Or maybe it is explained when the characters are speaking Polish.)

A vendor (Sam Breslin Wright) sells everything from chips to water at fairly exorbitant prices, but bakes a cake for the sister’s birthday and doesn’t charge her a dime. Sometime before or after the birthday party, a gang of wolves terrorizes the two trees; a gay man (Ray Anthony Thomas) gets stuck in the bushes cruising other men before he decides that he is “a lake”; the sister breaks up with a good friend (Becky Yamamoto) but finds love with a rabbi (Max Gordon Moore); the brother gets dumped by his boyfriend (Sean Donovan) who eventually marries another man who doesn’t show his face in “The Trees.”

The cast also includes Marcia DeBonis, Xander Fenyes, Nile Harris and Pauli Pontrelli who play roles completely superfluous to this plot. Barbagallo and Donovan, on the other hand, achieve the remarkable feat of acting genuinely quirkily throughout the show without ever turning into something totally twee.

The surprising thing about a play starring human trees is how flat the dialogue is. Also, for such a fantastical story, director Tina Satter takes a very literal approach as she loads the stark all-white set (by Parker Lutz) with more props than the Met Opera’s vintage production of “La Boheme.” Once all these carts, picnic baskets, grills, party streamers, hoses and more have littered the stage, they take an eternity to remove so that the next scene can begin.

The interminable transitions also include the brother and sister changing their colorful costumes (by Enver Chakartash) to signal the change in seasons. Lutz’s set and Thomas Dunn’s lighting prevent us, however, from learning how human trees take off and put on pants without removing their feet/roots from the ground.