Thousand Pines – Review by Tom Holehan

The aftermath of a school shooting is on the minds of victims trying to observe the Thanksgiving holiday in Mathew Greene’s new play, “Thousand Pines”, currently in a world premiere production at the Westport Playhouse. This mournful drama, written well before the Sandy Hook tragedy is, sadly, still very timely.

Utilizing a unique structure that takes place just under 80 minutes without intermission, “Thousand Pines” is told in three separate vignettes as it observes three neighborhood families each suffering a loss from a recent shooting that took place at the local Thousand Pines High School. Five of the six actors play three roles each while a sixth, the gifted Andrew Veenstra, portrays a young man who connects the first and third vignettes in a surprising way. Given the difficult material, Greene hasn’t shied away from the real pain inflicted into these people’s lives, but that’s about as far as he goes. There is no broader insight here into the tragedy or the bigger question of why our particular society seems to breed mass killers. Instead it often veers into melodrama which ultimately does the play and its important topic a disservice.

This brings us to the acting. With the exception of Mr. Veenstra, whose tortured performance resonates long after the curtain call, I’m afraid the other members of the acting company give into the worst excesses of the script. Kelly McAndrew, playing three different mothers, is “acting” throughout with a capital “A” and rarely convinces. Katie Ailion, Anne Bates, Joby Earle and William Ragsdale all have moments here and there, but it’s quite clear that few of them can handle one role, let alone three. I don’t mean to be harsh, but this is professional theatre and one just expects the acting to be of a higher standard. Some of the blame can, of course, be put on the limitations of a script filled with several unlikable characters and gratuitous profanity. Austin Pendleton’s surprisingly limp direction is also a factor.

The pristine scenic design by Walt Spangler is impressive, but even though the playbill tells us it represents three identical suburban tract houses, it really doesn’t work for the third vignette with characters who frankly sound like they live far on the other side of the tracks. Much praise, however, to designer Xavier Pierce who rose to the challenge of lighting a set equipped with a full ceiling, Composer Ryan Rumery’s ominous sound design adds to the general feeling of dread throughout the evening and Barbara A. Bell’s costuming keeps busy with over a dozen changes.

“Thousand Pines” is a sincere effort with great potential, but it’s an important topic that deserves a more accomplished treatment. Better acting and direction would help, but the script could also use another draft or two.

“Thousand Pines” continues at the Westport Playhouse through November 17. For further information or ticket reservations call the theatre box office at 203.227.4177 or visit: www.westportplayhouse.org.

Tom Holehan is one of the founders of the Connecticut Critics Circle, a frequent contributor to WPKN Radio’s “State of the Arts” program and Artistic Director of Stratford’s Square One Theatre Company. He welcomes comments at: tholehan@yahoo.com. His reviews and other theatre information can be found on the Connecticut Critics Circle website: www.ctcritics.org.

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