The Internet Theater Magazine of Reviews, Features, Annotated Listings
A CurtainUp Review
The Language of Trees

Look at me Denton. We're going to get you through this. You hear me? .— Bill Clinton.
Yes sir &mdash Denton.
Now's not the time to give up hope. You give up hope and it's over. That's it. You might as well just lay down and stop breathing. &mdash Bill Clinton
The Language of Trees
Gio Perez in The Language of Trees (Photo: Joan Marcus)
What a wonderful use is being made of the Roundabout Theatre Company's 67-seat black box basement space in the Harold & Miriam Steinberg Center, as it serves to showcase new plays by new playwrights. With Broadway virtually inundated with revivals, it is rewarding to see major non-for-profit theatrical institution pay attention to extraordinary new work. Stephen Karam's Speech and Debate successfully inaugurated the space last year. Writing this review on the morning after the election of Barack Obama, I am also filled with hope not only for our country's future, but in the expectation that the new government leadership will see the value of supporting the arts even in the face of economic hardship. To quote a past president, "Our long national nightmare is over."

Now having its world premiere, The Language of Trees by Steven Levenson is a heartbreaking, beautifully written play wisely and winningly tinged with humor. It isn't surprising that Levenson, a graduate of Brown University and a student of Paula Vogel, deftly employs touches of magic realism amid highly lyrical transitions within his otherwise down-to-earth play. The complexities of the staging, and they are considerable, have been handled with finesse by director Alex Timbers. In it, a mother and her 7 year-old son deal with the absence of the father, a translator of languages/private contractor who has accepted a six-month assignment in the war zone.

Since the United States-led invasion of Iraq, there have been many plays focused on the war, often comprised of real life accounts, unearthed testimonials, and documented files. These have served to open our eyes. The Language of Trees opens our hearts and in a way that has not nearly been explored enough. The play takes place during the early spring and summer of 2003 and begins in the kitchen of the Pinkerstone's home. Denton (Michael Hayden) comes into the kitchen dressed in his spanking new camouflage fatigues. He is impressed by the neon name tag he will wear. He is as calm and reassuring as his wife Loretta (Natalie Gold) appears visibly unsettled enough to ruin the breakfast. Their son Eben (Gio Perez) is precocious, a burgeoning brainiac, as intellectually curious as he is an ardent loner.

Although Denton's absence has its effect on Eben, it devastates Loretta, who neglects the house and forgets to pack Eben's school lunches. Tensions arise not only between Loretta and Eben, but also between Loretta and Kay (Maggie Burke), a nosy, but also kindly, neighbor who feels the need to make increasingly intrusive visits. In the six years living next door to one another, the women have never met. When Kay brings Loretta a gift basket to say "we support the troupes," in recognition of Denton's husband's courage and sacrifice, Loretta resists Kay's effusiveness and insists that her husband is not a soldier but a private contractor. Kay notices, however, that Loretta looks forlorn and unable to cope. Kay's aggressive, well-meaning but not always appreciated tactics, including the reading aloud of Bush's "mission accomplished" speech, as well as cooking dinners. She also manages to create problems between her and Eben.

Right from the start and a "show and tell" speech at school, Perez (splendidly and purposely portrayed by an actor who is obviously not 7 years-old), is immediately endearing and becomes a major catalyst for the emotional change in the home as he turns rebellious and remote, but mostly unable to fully comprehend the reality of the situation. His wish, in that he is a budding environmentalist, is that his father returns home to translate for him the language of trees.

Hayden, whose acting assignments have been as amazingly diverse as they have been lauded, brings a poignant and painful resonance to his role as a man who, in the solitude of his cell, succumbs to fantasy. The scenes between Gold as the cautious Loretta, and Burke, as the often over-bearing and just as often amusing Kay, give the play a real kick. Gold's defensive responses, as Loretta, are wonderfully contrasted against Burke's unwittingly disarming provocations as the neighbor whom we learn has sorrows of her own to reveal.

Levenson's play is structured so that Denton is seen off to the side cloaked in semi-darkness. Given a gun and helmet, Denton's speaks his letters home. They are impassioned and expressed in a heightened lyrical prose that defines him as a man of letters. After he has been "arrested for criminal activities" and put in a cell, Denton hallucinates visits with Loretta and even two visits, one hopeful, one disillusioning, by Bill Clinton (Michael Warner). An impressionistic image of a tree is on the other side of Cameron Anderson's nicely conceived modest kitchen setting and allows the actors moments in the out-of-doors. David Weiner's lighting nicely fulfills its task to illuminate and differentiate fantasy with the reality.
By Steven Levenson
Directed by Alex Timbers
Cast: Maggie Burke (Kay Danley), Natalie Gold (Loretta Trumble-Pinkerstone), Michael Hayden (Denton Pinkerstone), Gio Perez (Eben Trumble-Pinkerstone) and Michael Warner (Bill Clinton)
Sets by Cameron Anderson
Costumes by Emily Rebholz
Llighting by David Weiner
Sound by M. L. Dogg
Production manager: Michael Wade
Running time: 1 hour 30 minutes
At Roundabout Black Box Theater Harold and Miriam Steinberg Center for Theater
111 West 46th Street,(212) 719-1300.
From 1/04/08; opening 10/29/08; closing 12/14/08
Tuesday through Sunday evenings at 7 PM with Saturday and Sunday matinees at 1:30 PM.
Tickets: $20
Reviewed by Simon Saltzman November 4th
Highlight one of the responses below and click "copy" or"CTRL+C"
  • I agree with the review of The Language of Trees
  • I disagree with the review of The Language of Trees
  • The review made me eager to see The Language of Trees
Click on the address link E-mail:
Paste the highlighted text into the subject line (CTRL+ V):

Feel free to add detailed comments in the body of the email.

South Pacific  Revival
South Pacific

In the Heights
In the Heights

Playbill 2007-08 Yearbook

Leonard Maltin's Classic Movie Guide
Leonard Maltin's 2008 Movie Guide


©Copyright 2008, Elyse Sommer.
Information from this site may not be reproduced in print or online without specific permission from