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By Kendra Stanyon, Staff Writer How much can a man really understand about being a woman? As it turns out, plenty. Writer Charles Robertson goes inside the heads and hearts of five of them with Ghost of the Tree, opening this week at Theatre 5. Winner of Domino Theatre’s Come By the Lake One Act Festival this summer, the play follows a family tree back in time to its beginning, unearthing more than a few dirty little secrets along the way.
Unafraid to explore the darker aspects of issues like marriage and pregnancy, the script resonates with genuine insight into the female mind that’s particularly surprising, considering its source.
I think you can write for a different sex by just thinking of them as people, said Robertson to the Journal, who also directed the production.
Where the work shines best is in the honesty of each character’s emotional confessions, whether they be whispered quietly to the audience or brashly announced on stage to no one in particular. The dialogue in Ghost of the Tree is never verbose, and Robertson manages to cut straight to the heart of all five women’s innermost thoughts and fears without resorting to the kind of overwrought, self-reflective speeches sometimes seen in other productions.
Giving different voices to each of these five women would be a daunting task for any actor, however lead Erin Reinelt does so in a way that seems naturally effortless. Only seventeen years old, she appears equally at home in the role of a 1950’s housewife as she is playing a present-day street kid. Without the assistance of elaborate costumes, props or set pieces, Reinelt embodies each woman in a readily believable way that is at times entrancing to watch, especially during the spotlighted transitions from one character to the next.
Reinelt’s ability at characterization is complemented by the invaluable supporting performance of Justine Furster, whose mostly silent role onstage is part actor, dresser and part stagehand. Acting as a ghostly guide and occasional companion for each of the women, Furster exhibits a great physical prowess on stage that acts as sharp contrast to Reinelt’s many vulnerable incarnations.
In keeping with the script’s direct and candid tone, technical elements of the show are left very minimal. Much of the time the stage is lit by a single filtered light, meant to mimic the shape of leaves, while the sounds of an acoustic guitar can be heard at the beginning and end of each scene.
The set is equally bare, consisting of a garish-looking tree and a single stool, while props are non-existent and interchangeable fashion accessories take the place of full costumes.
The staging of Ghost of the Tree may not satisfy those looking for flashy theatrical gimmicks, but it works well with the script’s confessional feel. Without distractions, the audience is able to focus all their attention on the performances of Reinelt and Furster.
Motivated by the lack of meaty roles currently available for young actresses, Robertson had a specific goal in mind while writing Ghost.
I thought it would be a good opportunity to showcase young female talent, said Robertson, who wrote the show as a submission for the 2005 Sears Drama Festival.
There are great parts [for girls on stage], but not a lot of them.
The production is certainly successful in its aim, and has drawn a lot of attention from the theatre community. The show won ten awards at the Sears Festival, including the prestigious Adjudicator’s Award for acting, before its appearance at the Come By the Lake One Act Festival.
After finishing its run in Kingston, the show will travel to Cornwall to compete in the next level of the Eastern Ontario Drama League’s One Act Festival. From there, Robertson intends to submit the production to several other competitions across the country, including Toronto’s annual Fringe Festival. It isn’t hard to imagine this great show finding continued success and acclaim at each of these new venues.
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