Originally published in the SFU Peak , 1992


Six Palm Trees

Written by Caitlin Hicks.
Directed by Gordon Halloran.

Produced at the Vancouver Fringe Festival.
Review by Michael Brockington.


It was something like an intense tutorial. When I saw Six Palm Trees Monday noon at the Mount Pleasant Community Centre there were all of eleven people in the audience. Your anonymity evaporates in a group that small, leaving a collection of individuals in the place of an undifferentiated "audience". Not good news for the performer, but it suited the play admirably.

Caitlin Hicks played Annie Shea, sixth child in a huge Catholic family -- "the control group for a Masters and Johnson study of contraception," she tells curious strangers. We are not strangers long, though, as each of us in the audience becomes one of the other 14 family members. We were a little shy of the required numbers, so the soundman and lighting technician were drawn in as well.

The tension between individual and family drives the narrative. In an odd way it mirrored the audience/spectator relationship, with the similarity being accentuated by our small size and by the interactive nature of the play. Annie's need for recognition within her family was fueled by our eager attention to the performance, producing an intriguing confusion of character and performer. Unfazed by the small crowd, Hicks projected astounding energy, as though she could absorb the radiation of the stage lights and send it buzzing back out to us, showering sparks, unleashing quanta.

The play itself -- directed by Gordon Halloran -- is funny, sad, angry, a shared reminiscence that avoids being maudlin by including us, helping us to be rememberers rather than spectators. These are not necessarily experiences you would want to have, but they certainly aren't ones you would care to give up if they were already yours -- and for an hour, they are. 

Fringe venues tend to be very small, with little separation between audience and actors. Sitting in the front row , I was maybe a foot from the front of the stage area. Being so close to the performer -- close enough to count the beads of sweat -- tends to be intense, sort of a theatre version of IMAX. It can create a very interesting dynamic if the actors are obliged to ignore all these people they're dripping onto. Most plays aren't written or directed with this additional, rather artificial tension in mind. Six Palm Trees circumvents it entirely by folding the audience into the play; gentle as a chef handling egg whites.

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