IndyFringe Fest, Day One: Identity, Loyalty, and Illusion

Juniper treeImmersion in another IndyFringe Festival requires the kind of sorting that American shoppers have long been accustomed to at the supermarket. Matters of conscience, taste, and enjoyment jostle for priority in our diets and in our entertainment.

So many choices! Should you spend more time — going with impulse or deliberation — eyeing fresh produce or snack foods, at the meat counter or among the wine shelves? (Fill in your own arts-and-entertainment counterparts to these store stops.)

The difference with the Fringe festival is that shopping for price is not a factor. Night after night through Aug. 28, admission to each show is the same: $15 for adults, $12 for students and seniors, $8 for children under 12. The price conscious can by five tickets for the price of four shows with a Fiver Pass ($50). So much for consumer advice. On to the shows.

As with many family shoppers trying at home to justify purchases as they empty their bags, some things can’t be adequately explained. Even a blogger’s account doesn’t have to go there, and there is no emoji for a shrug. So here’s my opening night, described and evaluated, sans explanations.

“The Juniper Tree” grew on me, no pun intended. Susan Bennett plays women of three generations  in Timothy A. Taylor’s play. It starts slowly. In 1968, the soft-spoken Anna, who escaped czarist Russia with her husband, Avi, invites a visitor to join her for tea, a lifelong afternoon social ritual and link to her past. The memory of the 1905 Odessa pogrom is vivid to her, and Bennett conveys through nervous hand gestures just how deeply anti-Semitic atrocities in her hometown imprinted themselves on her. She laments a family rift the audience soon learns more about.

Her estranged daughter, Cece, recounts difficulties with her mother, which have resulted in her daughter Rachael’s growing up cut off from contact with her Bubbe, whom she remembers fondly, if vaguely. Bennett moves among three playing areas in the Phoenix Theatre’s Basile Theatre, advancing the story. In a climactic scene, the actress switches quickly between Anna and Cece (who has changed her name from the Hebrew Haya, meaning “life,” that she was given a birth).

Otherwise, the playwright has put the monologues into the format of a therapy session (for Cece) and a cassette recording that Rachael prepares to send to her grandmother seeking more insight and a reunion. Taylor has given different ways of speaking to each of the three women, and Bennett amplifies these skillfully. I felt that Rachael’s uniqueness could have been pointed up more, though we hear enough about it to make her yearning for family connection come through movingly, and the segue to Anna’s comment after hearing the last part of the audiotape puts a seal on the pathos of a family whose history poses identity challenges for each generation.

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  • Sat 08/20/16 7:30pm
  • Sun 08/21/16 1:30pm
  • Mon 08/22/16 9:00pm
  • Fri 08/26/16 10:30pm
  • Sat 08/27/16 7:30pm