“Family Tree” subverts the genre by portraying a family as dysfunctional as it is loving. The second showing of the play’s world premiere was held on Dec. 11 at Arts Garage in Delray Beach. The audience was confronted with their own biases in a story that playwright and director Danielle Trzcinski says was modeled after her own family.
“I wanted to write something that was cross-generational and the scope of straight, gay, old, young,” Trzcinski said. “Then dealing with immigration, all these things that are in my life and that I hadn’t seen on stage and I wanted to bring it on stage.”
The set sported a colossal Christmas tree that belonged to Trzcinski’s own family. At one of the show’s pivotal moments, the tree falls over. This symbolizes the dissolution of the family due to barriers such as daughters Marney (Allyson Rosenblum) coming out to the dissatisfaction of her family, Kathy (Kelsey Fout) feeling judged by her family for her job troubles, and Dana (Lanea Granitzki) breaking up with her long term partner. Once these conflicts are wrapped up like a present at the end, in a touching moment the whole family and holiday guests work together to get the tree standing again. The daughters were joined by Ruth (Carla Zackson Heller), Leonard (Jerry Jensen), Mama (Lesley Nebb), Sam (Loren Swan), and Ben (Alex Bakalarz).
Ruth, played by Heller, was not accepting of her lesbian daughter in the beginning of the play. Heller rose to the occasion by portraying her character fully.
“I was forced to say a lot of lines that show this character to be prejudiced and old fashioned in ways that I hope are less and less prevalent, but were true to this family,” Heller said. “The challenge as an actor is saying those things that might make me feel uncomfortable inside, and yet are very important to the structure of the play.”
“It’s showing the whole process of how people express, share, examine and undo their own prejudices with a supportive group around them, and how difficult that can be to trust, to share, and to change,” Heller said. “Especially to change long-standing, deeply held beliefs from your childhood, from your upbringing. That’s what this place was, at least for my character.”