An emotional look at one family’s journey through six decades, Sycamore Trees is an unflinching look at the triumphs and heartaches of life.
By Julie LaPorte
Through the ground-breaking “American Musical Voices Project,” sponsored by The Shen Family Foundation, Signature Theatre proudly premieres the musical Sycamore Trees, written by Ricky Ian Gordon and directed by Tina Landau. One of the most powerful and moving works of the season, Sycamore Trees runs through June 13.
Sycamore Trees tells the story of a dysfunctional family and the changes they undergo from the 1940s through the 1990s. The characters are self-aware, emotionally raw and present audiences with a first-hand account of the decades that seemed to shift the very foundation of society. The play explores the fallout of World War II, poverty, the disappointment of the American Dream, the tension that comes as children become individuals and break free from their parents’ expectations, the advent of free love and drugs, Vietnam, AIDS and the death of loved ones.
Marc Kudisch plays Sydney, a blue collar worker from New York who is scarred by his World War II experience and becomes a hard and distant father. Kudisch brings to mind Marlon Brando, and his voice was strong and moving. Diane Sutherland plays Edie, a singer and comedian on the “Borscht Belt,” who gives up her own personal aspirations for Sydney and her children. She provides the love and steadiness that help hold the family together, and she was utterly charming and playful.
Jessica Molaskey portrays the eldest daughter, Myrna, a creative and dynamic writer whose descent throughout the play was tragic and complete. Judy Kuhn‘s Theresa, the second daughter devoted to various causes, absolutely crackled with passion. Farah Alvin‘s portrayal of Ginnie, the youngest daughter who was often overlooked, was understated and fit the part perfectly. Tony Yazbeck was vulnerable and intense as Andrew, the youngest child and only son. Matthew Risch played Andrew’s boyfriend, David, adding emotional depth and a calming presence to the at-times frantic family.
“In Sycamore Trees, an American family speaks directly to the audience as they tell, and re-live, their stories in the second half of the 20th century,” says Landau. “The piece is very intimate, and deeply personal, yet it also has a historical sweep as it places these characters in the tumult of the times – the chaotic 60s, the pressurized 80s, and so on. It’s exquisite – in its sense of longing and loss, and the profound ties that bind family together. Above all, the piece has a form which is completely unique – unlike any other show I can think of. It’s highly inventive and idiosyncratic in its storytelling – constantly surprising, creating and breaking its own rules. The whole piece feels like a poem – some haunting combination of memory, music, and dreams.”
For more information and tickets, visit Signature Theatre.