The story in The Tree pits two families against each other: one father is an ex-hippie environmentalist who is now produce manager at the Co-op, the other an ex-logger now working in a lumber yard. They are battling over a single tree in the heart of town---should it be cut down to make bleachers for the high school football team, or left to live out its natural life? An aggressive police chief and a cautious mayor are between them.
This is not Silverbrand’s first play (a documentary drama called The Lobster War, based on his Maine reporting, was produced at the Eagle House in 1999), but it is his first comedy and work of the imagination. It seems his English Masters paid off, for it also includes star-crossed lovers in a Romeo and Juliet subplot, as well as a mysterious figure, a elderly woman who becomes a key player in the unfolding story.
Silverbrand and Ryles agree that the theme of the play is change, and how people cope with it, and try to locate a new identity in flux. The action---which includes protests, police plans for subduing protestors, city council meetings, etc.---seem to come from familiar local events, many of which Dave Silverbrand covered as a reporter.
They are situations rife with conflict, but that’s always fascinated Silverbrand, from the first town council meeting he witnessed as a teenager. “These personalities clashing with each other, these people bickering and picking at each other---it just seemed like so much fun to me.”
This attitude towards local conflicts, however, may be contrary to North Coast tradition. “Everybody here has an opinion about conservation and environment, and it’s a pretty deeply held philosophy. You don’t find too many ambivalent people around here. But there are some parts of the country where people laugh at themselves on a regular basis,” Silverbrand mused. “Where I lived in Maine, it’s part of the culture to laugh at yourself. Different parts of the country are the same way. We take ourselves very seriously up here---too seriously sometimes, I think.”
Silverbrand said he hasn’t seen the Dell ‘Arte play about a tree-sitter, Shadow of Giants, now on national tour, so he can’t make any comparisons. “I’m not saying this is one of the great plays of all time---it’s not,” he added. “But it is a local satire, an opportunity for all of us to laugh at ourselves. That’s pretty much the value of it.”
For all his fascination with disagreements, Silverbrand seemed proud to point out that he got along well with both police and tree-sitters during the protests in Freshwater a few years ago. Though Silverbrand refused several invitations to climb a tree, he and Jenny Carr—known as Remedy---were cell phone friends. He remembers answers his cell in a San Francisco hotel where he was on a Christmas shopping trip with his wife, and it was Remedy calling from her tree home, just saying hello.
Everybody likes Dave. But will they feel the same way after this play?
“I think he wrote a real heartfelt piece,” Denise Ryles said, and added with a grin, “he makes fun of everybody equally.”
A different version of this story appears in the North Coast Journal.
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