The Man Who Planted Trees sparks French culture in an electrical substation
“I have been charmed by this park for years,” says director Rachel Weise, her brown ponytail bobbing back and forth as she speaks emphatically in front of the aged brick substation building. She's meeting her actors for a rehearsal of The Man Who Planted Trees, set to run through Oct. 20 at Sparky Park near North Campus.
The place that once helped light a neighborhood will now host theatrical energy instead of electrical currents. Weise says she was determined to make the now leisurely neighborhood park the location for her show. For her, The Man Who Planted Trees, had to be done in Sparky Park.
The substation-turned-park is an almost kismet location for a play that is largely about rejuvenating the earth soiled by humanity. Only, instead of transforming a substation into a park, the play’s protagonist spends 30 years planting trees in the French countryside, turning a barren landscape into a lush forest.
The story, adapted for the stage by Katherine Craft, is largely in French, though English speakers need not worry. — French dialogue is minimal. Most of the action in the play is movement-based and non-verbal. Instead of a traditional play, Weise says, “it’s a theatrical interpretation utilizing movement, dance, artistry, an original sound score.”
Along with its unconventional narrative style, The Man Who Planted Trees also challenges traditional notions of the audience/performer relationship. Several times during the performance, the audience will be expected to get out of their seats, following actors to different areas of the Sparky Park.
Weise hopes this interactivity will break the "4th wall," and place the audience into the narrative, so together the audience and actors can transform the park into French countryside circa 1922.
Weise’s production is one of the first theatrical adaptation of the French short story also called “The Man Who Planted Trees." Weise hopes in its simplicity the piece communicates the mission of her theatre company, The Exchange Artists' to "help empower artists and audiences with fresh perspectives, new experiences and a strengthened sense of connection."
The Man Who Planted Trees is playing at Sparky Park, located at 3017 Grooms St. through Oct. 20 on Thursdays through Sunday evenings at 7 p.m.