Stuart Brown is the founder of the 24/7 online Broadway music radio station, Sounds of Broadway (http://www.SoundsofBroadway.com), which plays the best from the Off-Broadway, Broadway, and London stage. Thousands of songs from hundreds of cast albums are in rotation. He reviews NYC theater as a member of the Outer Critics Circle and reviews CT stage productions as a member of the CT Critics Circle. He is also a member of the Dramatist Guild.
Saturday, November 10, 2018
Review of "Thousand Pines"
The focus of the world premiere of Thousand Pines, playing at the Westport
Country Playhouse through November 17th, is a shooting at a Junior
High School.This powerful and, at
times, emotionally gripping production will resonate deeply with all audience
members, and especially Connecticut residents who remember the carnage at Sandy
Ragsdale, Katie Ailion, Joby Earle, Andrew Veenstra, Kelly McAndrew,
and Anne Bates in “Thousand Pines,” written by Matthew Greene, directed by Austin Pendleton, at Westport Country Playhouse, now playing through November 17.Photo by Carol Rosegg
Playwright Matthew Greene has crafted
three vignettes that center on the life-changing episode.Each scene takes place in the suburban neighborhood
surrounding the school during Thanksgiving and approaches the consequences from
a different angle.The setting, a dining
area outside the kitchen, is the same for each portion of the show.Five of the six performers change roles
during the trio of scenarios.
The first account revolves around a
mother as she and other family members help her prepare for the holiday meal.We quickly learn that her dispassionate, false
façade is a coping mechanism as she cannot face up to the magnitude of the
tragic event.Her son, tormented by an
unknown guilt clashes with his mother as the surreal nature of the aftermath
becomes too much for him to take.
L-R: Joby Earle, Andrew Veenstra, and Kelly McAndrew in “Thousand Pines,” written by Matthew Greene, directed by Austin Pendleton, at Westport Country Playhouse, now playing through November 17.Photo by Carol Rosegg
In the next story, litigation is the
primary element as a lawyer and his ex-wife seek to coax a plaintiff-friendly
deposition from a witness to the shooting.As the details begin to unfold a shocking aspect of the event is
The final glimpse into a grieving
household, once again, has a mother center stage.As neighbors try to cheer her up and redirect
her attention more information behind the shooting is disclosed.Then, in a blink of an eye, the three
seemingly unconnected vignettes coalesce into a more coherent, yet stunning,
Greene has written a compelling and
haunting work that does not produce any easy answers.He presents
information, sometimes delivered in a stark and detached manner, that offers
insights, but nothing definitive is resolved.Questions of blame and correct protocols are left for audience member to
decide.He rightfully focuses attention
on how individuals react differently and are impacted by such an event.The results can be devastatingly raw and
absolutely heartbreaking.Some of the
characters are not fully realized or deeply drawn, which is usually an issue
for such short shows.The
intermission-less production runs only 79 minutes.
L-R: Andrew Veenstra, Kelly McAndrew and Katie Ailionin “Thousand Pines,” written by Matthew Greene, directed by Austin Pendleton, at Westport Country Playhouse, now playing through November 17.Photo by Carol Rosegg
The six person actors – Katie Ailion,
Anne Bates, Joby Earle, Kelly McAndrew, William Ragsdale, and Andrew Veenstra –
play multiple roles within the three presentation and three of them
standout.Their characters are more
fully developed, which allows for more nuance and shading in their
portrayals.Kelly McAndrew has the most
difficult job as she embodies three different matriarchs, all at different
points of the grieving process.Anne
Bates is a supporting player in two of the three scenes.In the middle piece, however, she delivers a
chilling monologue that is agonizing in its moral implications.Andrew Veenstra, the only actor who plays the
same character throughout the production, is a shattered mess as he tries to
comprehend the horrific event that took place months earlier.
Director Austin Pendleton skillfully
resets each tableau with precision and care.He perceptually incorporates a good deal of quietude and reflection among
the shattered family members.Pendleton also
brings a natural, sometimes infuriating, flow to the show.Infuriating because of the wild mood swings rendered
by the characters, but natural because of the honest and genuine feelings they
display on stage.
Thousand Pines, a gripping and
sometimes difficult piece of theater that, nonetheless, demands to be seen.