In Care of Trees, Georgia (Megan Gotz) and Travis (Jon Gennari) meet and fall in love and get married. But their relationship will not fit neatly into the "happily ever after" storyline. Georgia contracts a mysterious illness that will kill her. How do you deal with a terminal diagnosis and the way it changes both people involved?
We see Georgia and Travis' story unfold through a series of memories that jump across their shared timeline rather than watching a linear progression—the pair grab hands and a "whoosh" sound effect throws them into another segment of their past. One moment they might be falling more deeply in love with each other, like when they invent a theme song for their relationship on the fly. It's a touch cringy witnessing this—you wish you could give them some privacy. Then there are scenes where fault lines are revealed—as in when Georgia tells Travis, "You're afraid of anything spiritual," once she realizes how increasingly important faith is to her.
Georgia and Travis feel like two distinct people, which is a credit both to the actors and to playwright E. Hunter Spreen. Their differing beliefs are the source of real conflict, but not one that's ever milked for cheap drama. Both can partially see the underlying schisms pushing them apart, but there's a stronger force that pulls them together.
Gotz and Gennari understand the back and forth their characters are experiencing. You can read it on their faces in any given scene as an exhaustive range of emotions bubble just below the surface. Their chemistry is good, most obviously in moments of quiet frustration when they're trying to decide what to say next to each other.
Care of Trees is performed on a set that's like a large, round treehouse with a canopy that extends over the stage. There are many other references to trees throughout, or how humans are like trees. Georgia often wears a dendron-green dress, for example, especially early in the play. One of Travis' outfits is a red flannel shirt in the classic lumberjack pattern. As Georgia gets sicker, she says of her condition, "There are masses growing in my brain. Vinelike masses."
A simplistic interpretation of the extended humans-as-trees metaphor might go something like this: Georgia is like a tree that contracts blight and requires care. Travis is like a tree that has grown around another tree. When the infected tree eventually dies and is removed from the landscape, Travis is left misshapen, though must continue to grow.
But that's just one person's idea. Care of Trees, which appropriately enough is playing at Shaking the Tree Theatre, is expressionistic in nature. Any interpretation will depend on one's own experiences and relationships. Care of Trees is never interested in answering any of the questions it raises. Only in pondering them.
SEE IT: Care of Trees plays at Shaking the Tree Theatre, 823 SE Grant St., ensotheatre.com. 7:30 pm Thursday-Saturday and 2 pm Sunday, Nov. 29-Dec. 8. $15-$25.