The Trees

When is a tree not a tree? When it’s a human! Or could it be both? Such is the question poised at the heart of Agnes Borinsky’s new play The Trees currently running at Playwrights Horizons.

A brother and sister come home late one evening a bit tipsy and instead of entering their home, stumble off to a park nearby where they suddenly find themselves inexplicably rooted to the ground and unable to move. As their liquored minds evaporate with the following morning’s sunrise, panic sets in when they comprehend their new reality—part human, part tree.

Thus sets off a mish-mash chain of events—a visit from their grandmother who only speaks Polish and Yiddish, a break up with a boyfriend, a guy who sells water and snacks (and eventually tries to sell them out to a mall developer), a homeless man who speaks to them from the bushes, a close but self-absorbed friend who comes and goes and a rabbi who visits after hearing about these strange creatures on his local news.

Photo by Sara Krulwich/The New York Times

The central question for the siblings at play is “are you a human or are you a tree?” Their answer is a resounding “Both!” A theme begins to emerge encouraging a love and acceptance of all people and from that, building a community of varied genders, expressions and spectrum positions where all are valued for who they are and their contributions to the whole of the community they have formed.

The piece made me think of Samuel Beckett’s Happy Days, with the main character buried in sand for the entirety of the play. However, while Beckett’s absurdity focuses more on despair, Agnes Borinsky accomplishes her premise through more joyful means—wacky humor, zany antics and wild conceits that can’t help but induce laughter.

The cast fully immerse themselves in the material and their commitment makes the ideal world that is created by the end a plausible, if not probable, pursuit of true peace among people.

In a time where there is much turmoil and unrest, the ultimately simple message in The Trees is a fresh take on the old saying “Can’t we all just get along?”

The Trees runs through March 19.