Sometimes you take a chance on a show, simply for the fact that it's trying something new. "An Oak Tree" was such a show. Looking to fill in a few open spots made available due to the premature closings of "High Fidelity," "Mimi LeDuck" and "The Times They Are A'Changin," I read the premise of "An Oak Tree": one actor in the show plays a hypnotist who has accidentally killed a little girl with his car. (His Subaru Legacy, to be precise.) The other actor in the show plays the father of the little girl, who has come to the pub in England where the hypnotist is performing, to confront the man who took his daughter from him.
The gimmick is this: the second actor changes every night. Each night, someone new plays the role of the father. Someone who has never seen the play, never read the play, someone who knows nothing more than what I've just told you in the first paragraph. (Although the actors don't touch upon what show closings led me to the Barrow Theater.) He (or she, as several women have played the role of the father) appear at the theater near show time and are invited onto the stage just as the show is to begin.
During the show, the actor (tonight it was Stephen Lang, whom I enjoyed last year in John Patrick Shanley's "Defiance" -- recent shows have featured David Hyde Pierce, Mike Myers, Frances McDormand, Peter Dinklage and Joan Allen, among others) wears earbuds, through which he is regularly given direction by Tim Crouch, the writer, director and consistent co-star of this experimental work of theatre. Often he is told what to say. Other times he reads from clipboards with a few pages of dialogue. Everything the actor does, he is told to do, either directly or indirectly, usually the former.
Many times during the evening, this thought came to my head: there is a reason plays are rehearsed. Though I was the only person in our theater-going foursome who truly enjoyed the evening, there were times that the conceit became clumsy and I longed to be in a more traditional show. But as "An Oak Tree" continued (it's just over an hour in length), I started to see it as brilliant, if still contrived and chilly. On an intellectual level, I appreciated it. But on a deeper level, I felt just the tiniest bit toyed with.
Tomorrow: "Gutenberg: The Musical" and "The Vertical Hour."