What happens to the kids at the end of the world? How would the unformed minds of children cope with the external horrors of a dying planet while dealing with their own internal horrors of puberty? With no adults in sight, how would they answer questions about sexual identity while also asking where the next meal is? The chaos of Treefall’s circumstances is fuel for its compelling, if disorganized, narrative about post-apocalyptic prepubescents.
Taking place on a decimated Earth where sunlight singes flesh, three boys live atop a hill in a shack that has seen better days. In the absence of their parents, the three boys ape the only life they’ve ever known and create a twisted version of a nuclear family. One boy dons a wig and dress, another pants and shirt, and the youngest holds a doll. Their make believe is dark and distorted, even more-so when attempts are made to replicate the sexual dynamics of a family. To the boys though, it is everything. The worship of the nuclear family is quite literal: they create a shrine to their mother adorned with artifacts and treat them with a militant reverence. This paradigm faces change, however, when the boys happen upon a girl when scavenging for food.
The narrative is executed well on many levels, but the linchpin is the stage design by Bill Gordon and Jeff Simpson. As soon as you enter the black box, the grime and decay of the stage overwhelms. It sets a scene of desperation which accentuates the dire tone of the story. It is some of the best I have seen this year. The setting creates a solid dramatic foundation which is expertly utilized by the cast. Each character manages to capture the emotional complexity of each prepubescent kid: clumsy sexual tension, confusion, and frustration all percolate their interactions which keeps the dialogue darkly interesting.
World-building and acting skills aside, the plot lacks a sense of cohesion which prevents it from leaving a lasting impact or focused message. Each plot line and character arc is enjoyable to witness since it is set against such a spectacular backdrop, and in the moment, the immersion of the show allows the audience to get lost in what the characters are doing. However, you may end up wondering what the point was for some of the narrative beats as the thematic messages become muddled.
Disturbing and dark, this dystopian coming-of-age tale is well executed and is a compelling ninety minutes.
Review by Ryan Moore
Treefall continues at Trap Door Theatre through 9/2. More info here.
The Hawk Chicago is included in TheatreInChicago's Review Round-Up.