Shaking the memory tree
The Giving Tree
As the weather grows warmer, and I stare at my computer screen, I long for a good old-fashioned summer vacation. I miss those long summer days of my childhood, when I had no responsibilities, and I would do nothing for hours but lie in the shade of a tree and tie blades of grass into knots. Remember those days? I’ve been feeling nostalgic ever since I saw Brüka Theatre’s production of Shel Silverstein’s classic, The Giving Tree.
I still have a copy of this book; it’s one of my favorites. I leaf through it (no pun intended) every now and then, and it still chokes me up. The story, which is simple and very short, is about the relationship between a little boy and a tree. The Tree loves when The Boy comes to swing from her branches, makes crowns of her leaves and sleeps in her shade. But as boys will do, he grows too old to play in trees. He wants money, a family and a home. The Tree, who wants nothing more than his companionship, unselfishly gives him her apples, her branches, her trunk, until there’s nothing left, in an attempt to give The Boy what he wants and make him happy. It’s purely about the joy of giving to someone you love.
Brüka’s rendition of The Giving Tree, which takes place at the McKinley Arts & Culture Center, beautifully translates this message during its short-but-sweet 45 minutes, designed specifically for children. Before the show starts, Scott Beers (The Boy) and Mary Bennett (The Tree) mill around the room in costume, meeting the children in the audience and getting them excited about the show. And even after Beers and Bennett hop up on stage, they continue to engage the children with questions about the show they’re about to see.
The “fourth wall” that usually stands between performers and audience doesn’t really appear here. When The Boy makes his crown of leaves and creates games to play with The Tree, Beers asks the kids in the crowd to suggest games. “What kinds of things do we get from trees?” he asks, and at least 20 kids raise their hands, eager to participate. Meanwhile, Bennett, as The Tree, in her green and brown dress and her hat covered in leaves, peers out from the tree onstage and begins to produce items like baseball bats, hockey sticks, paper and pencils. When The Boy starts telling jokes, they ask the kids in the crowd whether they know any good ones. Some of the show’s funniest moments come from the kids in the audience, who are young enough that they’re not afraid to say anything, no matter how foolish.
While The Giving Tree was not originally meant for the stage, Michael Grimm (an RN&R contributor) did a wonderful job writing this adaptation for Brüka. The result is remarkably creative and fun. Whether young children understand the story’s message or not, I think they’ll come away having learned some things about nature, about the importance of wood products, and about friendship. Plus, they will have spent 45 minutes with their parents, away from the television or the computer, experiencing live theater for perhaps the first time. And I’m pretty sure it’ll make you want to run right out and hug a tree.