All in the ‘Family Tree’

I love new plays! I really get off on being among the first audience to discover a new playwright or new work without any preconceived notions. To immerse myself in what’s often a very topical subject that its author was passionate enough about to devote huge chunks of his/her life to forming and then doing the really hard work (often on a wing and a prayer) of getting it to the stage. 

I used to attend lots of inexpensive Off-Off Broadway productions when I lived in New York City. And I admit that one of my biggest fears about a Florida move was feeling I’d miss out on my guilty pleasure of new play discovery. Little did I know that rather than miss out, I’d be able to gorge on the best of the best!

While in the various boroughs of NYC, the quality and acting was variable, to say the least. (Many a time, simply out of politeness, my husband and I were the only audience still seated after intermission.) But that’s never the case in South Florida. Here, the small theater companies that relish presenting new work are completely professional and experienced. They search far and wide for that special original script, and have been known to participate in multiple readings to finesse a story with potential. So that when they decide to mount a new play, you can be assured it’s after much consideration and curation. 

There’s no place to google reviews of a world premiere, but seeing one here is no crap shoot, either. I’ve come to trust the taste of the artistic directors and production teams in our area and I’m never sorry. Even if it’s a subject I may not have been originally interested in (and I’m forever curious, so that’s rare), they put on a great show starring well cast, Equity and/or experienced actors. It’s never a miss. Who’d have guessed that our tri-county South Florida community would be such a hotbed of original work and creativity!

Case in point: FAMILY TREE, a world premiere by Erin K. Considine, produced by Plays of Wilton (POW!) and Ronnie Larsen Presents and now playing at The Foundry. (Here I must add that Ronnie Larsen’s original play, “The Actors,” a big hit at The Foundry last season, will be playing Off-Broadway on Theatre Row in Manhattan from April 27 … and we got to see it here first!) 

Considine’s bio describes her as “an emerging playwright” from Atlanta. But she already has several plays and festival awards under her belt since 2017 and I’m delighted to see that after “treading the boards” as an actor for over 20 years, her playwriting career has taken off. “Family Tree” is so well-crafted and paced, so loaded with drama, humor, and poignancy, that there’s nothing “new playwright” about it. It’s a fully realized, mature work that’s perfect in every way. And due to its rather common focus on family drama, that’s actually a high bar to achieve. 

Several aspects of your typical family drama are unique to this play. For one, there’s its heightened topicality – both in location and circumstance. “Family Tree” holds a double meaning: the obvious one about familial relationships but also, at its center, the sudden absence of a mature Elderwood tree from the family’s backyard; it was burnt in the latest wildfire. There’s the ever-present smell of smoke as well – a nod to growing West Coast infernos and climate-change destruction.

The nuclear family in this play – an aging mother in her 60s and two grown children in their early 40s – also go through catastrophic destructions and reconstructions in their lives. The mother, who suffers from progressive Alzheimer’s disease, has trouble remembering the recent past and finding the words to speak to her kids. But her thoughts – often passionate and loaded with wit and humor – are clearly enunciated to us, her supportive audience. This theatrical device makes her a fully realized character despite her disability. Both the vicissitudes of her condition and her candid internal monologues have rarely been so fully realized onstage. 

As we all know, a so-so script can be given a new lease on life by great acting, while a superior script can be doomed by an inadequate cast. For “Family Tree,” Larsen chose wisely – notable members of Actors Equity, all – to bring the playwright’s amazing scenes to life. Starting with director Margaret M. Ledford, a longtime South Florida star, Carbonell and Silver Palm Award winner who currently serves as artistic director of City Theatre, among numerous creative projects. Because of The Foundry’s intimate size, great sight-lines, and wide, outdoor-style stage set, everyone in the audience could experience the action as happening in real time, right in front of them, for the entire 90-minute-with-no-break production. Ledford’s invisible director’s hand did a superb job. And she had incredible pros to work with who instantly made us believe in, relate to … even get emotionally invested in their characters. 

Nowadays, most everyone is personally impacted or knows someone who’s dealing with a loved one who suffers from dementia. Multiple Carbonell and Silver Palm winner (with credits all over South Florida) Elizabeth Dimon owns her role as mentally declining mom, Isabella. She’s tough as nails one moment, confused and frightened about where her mind-to-mouth muscles have gone, the next. Though she does manage to complain aloud, repeatedly (each time having just noticed!) that “The house smells like smoke.” 

Isabella is also a product of her generation, admitting she’d almost left her bully of a husband a couple of times but “where would I go”? She’s also, at least to us, not all that enamored with her adult offspring. Each time she overhears them bickering and being nasty to one another, she looks at us and says matter-of-factly, “The children are assholes.” 

Nothing is revealed all at once, though slowly the relationship antagonisms begin to make sense as past incidents come to light. Beginning with Isabella’s follow up explanation of WHY the children are assholes: “I blame my husband. He was an asshole too … I blame my husband but I loved him.”

There’s plenty of hurt and blame to go around, often not earned. But also, always, lots of love in this bruised, battered, but also very ordinary and relatable family.

Gavin, the older-by-a-couple-of-years gay son, is played by powerhouse Bruce Linser who both directs and acts with prestigious companies throughout our area. Just when I decide his true gift is comedy, he’ll shine in a drama or musical. He really can do it all. As Gavin, he’s called on to play both a fussy, stuffed shirt and a warm, concerned brother and son – self-righteous and accusatory one minute, light-hearted and hilarious in reenacting old sibling song-and-dance moves the next. But his pain is palpable when he recounts how brutally his father treated him when he was just eight and caught him playing dress-up and dancing in mom’s skirts with his sister. (“Dad clapped for you and told you how beautiful you looked. He grabbed me by the hair and pulled me into the garage. Then pulled at the seam of the skirt, ripping it off. I gave up dancing after that.”) 

It’s interesting to note how the two siblings had “different” Catholic parents. Gavin informs his sister: “You have this rosy, idealized version of mom and dad that I never got. I was the shame of that man’s life.” He admits to hating soccer though he was a star athlete in high school, saying he only played because “I wanted dad to love me.” 

We do later learn that his sister, who sought her father’s love and affirmation by getting perfect grades, had own issues. She tells her brother: “You were like a lion in high school. I couldn’t be like you, just quiet and smart.” She also sees herself as overweight and romantically undesirable. It’s sad, but typical, that siblings define their identity and position in the family by how they differ from one another. It doesn’t help when her brother brings up relationships, and that she’s neglecting her own life completely with the excuse of “taking care of mom.” When he says, “You haven’t had a boyfriend since Teddy Millhouse in high school,” her comeback is, “Teddy Millhouse left me for YOU in the ninth grade.”

And now apparently Gavin has found his forever love match and is moving on to a happy domestic life. All that his sister, Calista, secretly yearns for. A gifted artist who lost her sole job in the field when the gallery she worked for went under, she finds herself unemployed and at loose ends. So she moves back home, honestly, to take care of mom, but also to give meaning and structure to her empty life. Calista is played with verve and vulnerability by Lindsey Corey who has also made her mark both locally and on tour. 

All three family members knock against one another and knock down the memorabilia of their past. “What’s best for mom” may be presented as the main issue, but their search also leads them to what’s best for each of them going forward. By mostly staying out of the picture, Gavin appears to have evolved the furthest. But he still needs to confront and make peace with unresolved traumas from his past in order to truly love and support the only family he’s got. I won’t tell you how they get there – it’s often convoluted and even heart-wrenching, at times, but also packed with wry wit, a little slapstick, and Calista’s sisterly “snark.”  

While you might catch your breath at some shocking revelations, you also can’t help but root for this often unhappy, but basically loving family that’s messy in its own way (unlike “happy families”), but also very familiar. Don’t worry. You will leave the theater smiling because the one spoiler I’ll include here is that there IS a happy ending, though maybe not the one you expect.  

Helping us feel like we’re right there in the yard with the actors, was a welcome greeting by associate producer Joseph Guidetti, impeccable scenic design by John Barry Green, Jordon Armstrong and the MNM Builds crew, and the skill sets of stage manager Amanda Ortega – who also handled production lights and sound (so cool to hear the wind and chirping birds), lighting designer Preston Bircher, and costume designer Casey Sacco.  

Don’t miss your chance to be first to rave about Erin K. Considine’s world premiere, FAMILY TREE, only playing now through May 12 at The Foundry, 2306 N. Dixie Highway, Wilton Manors 33305. For tickets go to or

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