An inventor morphs into a fly; a mermaid becomes human; a healthy person turns into an immobile one. Aaron Golden’s new play gives equal attention to the struggles of the changeling and the ambivalent witness to the change. Julian (Lance Newton) and Peter (Christopher Hart) are young journalists whose paths diverge in an Indiana cornfield, where Julian has planted himself with the goal of gradually becoming a conifer: “To tree” is an infinitive verb.
The seriousness of the two actors’ focus establishes the potentially cutesy premise as, in fact, dangerously real—an admirable feat on a set composed of a square of hilly Astroturf. While standing stock-still, Newton animates and improves on his character, whose motives and methods for switching species are convoluted; what matters, as yogis and tango dancers might say, is the commitment to stillness. Golden’s script tilts from frat-house banter to newspaperman patter to moral truisms, sometimes pausing—to electrifying but unresolved effect—on class and racial conflicts. Of course, Hart’s cajoling and Newton’s laser-cut disdain would come to nothing if the titular tree failed to persuade. Set designer Ian James Anthony creates a miracle onstage whose rough, poetic design lends redwood rings of truth to a fraught and evolving friendship.