Review: Oaks has good roots, but withers under bad acting and writing

It reaches high — but unfortunately Oaks isn’t strong enough to resist being pulled down, branch by branch, by bad writing and acting.

Written and directed by local playwright Fiona Revill, Oaks ran alongside five other one-act plays at the 2018 Cascadia Project Festival, created by Bryan Wade of UBC’s creative writing department. But while the play had a promising setup and good roots for an emotional, meditative drama, it fell hard on execution.

The story is based around two siblings: David (played by Scott Brydle) who is home from college for his mother’s funeral, and Georgia (Millicent Noren), his teenage sister who decides to hide in a tree in their backyard instead of attending the service.

The dialogue – which should be the backbone of a play like this – is clunky and awkward. For every charmingly snarky line that might give us a hint of who these people are and what kind of relationship they have, there are a handful that are so jarringly worded it sounds like Revill was trying to write a period piece.

The play meanders around some vaguely sad emotions without any sense of what it wants to say. Sometimes concepts are brought up and given a lot of weighty emphasis as if they’re thematically relevant or going to be addressed again later, but they never are. The siblings discuss a meaningful picture of their mother, a hymn Georgia doesn’t want to sing, David’s sexual identity and the time his train leaves in the morning – all built up like they should matter, and they’re all wasted. Chekhov would weep.

Most egregiously, three-quarters of the way through the play, it grinds to a halt so David can deliver a 15-minute monologue about a childhood memory. It has nothing to do with anything in the story or his relationship with Georgia. The whole ordeal is excruciatingly boring, fails utterly at being profound and is delivered by an actor so stiff that it completely flattens what should be the emotional climax of the play.

There are some good moments in the form of decent deadpan humour that tick the “comic relief” box. Noren has an earnest energy about her and is by far the stronger of the two actors. She does what she can with her inconsistent lines, and delivers a genuinely powerful, emotional moment in the scene where her character inevitably breaks down. There’s real, raw pain in her voice when she talks about how afraid she is of her beloved tree/obvious-mother-metaphor rotting away and something else taking its place. In that one quick moment, we get a sense of what this play could be with some workshopping.

Too bad her brother just sits there for five minutes before finally reading the script and seeing that he’s supposed to comfort her now, or something.