Wednesday, October 10, 2012

The Man Who Planted Trees, adapted by Katherine Craft from a story by Jean Giono, The Exchange Artists at Sparky Pocket Park, October 4 - 20

AustinLiveTheatre reviewThe Man Who Planted Trees Jean Giono Exchange Artists Austin TX

by Dr. David Glen Robinson

The story of how Sparky Pocket Park on Grooms St. in central Austin came to exist is a drama all by itself, involving City departments and neighborhood voters. But that story is for another time; I went there on this chilly October evening to see the site-specific work by the Exchange Artists, The Man Who Planted Trees, based on a story by the French writer Jean Giono. I certainly was not disappointed in my expectations.

The performers seemed to use every square inch of the park as well as the inside of the maintenance building in the park’s center. Riding on the impressive talents and skill of actor Rommel Sulit, the production turned the tiny half-block pocket park into an Alpine d├ępartement of France, complete with forests, rocks, waters and wastelands.

Man Who Planted Trees Exchange Artists Austin
Gene Menger (photo: Erica Nix)

The play is plain and simple. A traveler in the Alps encounters an old peasant who does nothing in life but plant trees, oaks specifically. Working through the setbacks and limitations of two world wars, the planter at the end of his life leaves a forest legacy comparable perhaps to the creative accomplishments of God, but far surpassing the achievement of almost every other human being.

The work is current in its theme and emblematic of the 21st century’s Green movement, and it gains greater currency by depicting the threats and effects of war. In so doing, the play points to our time’s continual teetering on the brink of total war. We seem incapable of learning what last century’s peasants, innocent of education, knew instinctively.

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