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Paulanne Simmons

This "Oak Tree" Is Hollow

"An Oak Tree"
Directed by Tim Crouch, Karl James & A. Smith
Barrow Street Theatre
27 Barrow Street at 7th Ave.
Opened Oct. 27, 2006
Mon. 8 p.m., Tues. 8 p.m., Fri. 9:30 p.m., Sat. 5 & 9:30 p.m., Sun. 5 & 8 p.m.
$29 (212) 239-6200
Closes Jan. 14, 2007
Reviewed by Paulanne Simmons Dec. 16, 2006

As a reviewer I see many shows, Broadway, off-Broadway and off off-Broadway. But I have seldom had as unpleasant an evening as I did on December 16 when I saw "An Oak Tree" at the Barrow Street Theatre.

The sad part is that I was really looking forward to seeing the show. Its premise sounded fascinating. At each performance in this two-hander, one of the roles is played by a guest actor. I expected original, perhaps extraordinary feats of improvisation. I was sadly disappointed.

Tim Crouch, who also wrote and directs (with Karl James and A. Smith) plays a hypnotist who killed or thinks he killed or will kill a young girl in a car accident. The other actor plays the young girl's father, who has come to the hypnotist's performance for reasons never made clear. But Crouch leaves so little room for the other actor (he feeds him some lines via a microphone and gives him other lines on a clipboard) that the show seems more like an audition than a performance.

The night I saw the show, Joey Slotnick (a regular on "Boston Public" and "The Single Guy") played the father. If this had been an audition, it's hard to see how any casting director would have given him the part. Even within the narrow confines Crouch gives him, Slotnick does nothing with the role. I suspect any number of people in the audience could have done just as well.

"An Oak Tree" is a self-indulgent piece of nonsense which allows Crouch to play God as he makes the father believe that he is standing naked in front of the audience, that he has defecated over his naked body, and finally that he is the one who has killed his daughter. The sadism is never justified or explained, although we are led to believe it has something to do with the hypnotist's personal sense of guilt.

The truth is Crouch has neither a story to tell nor a play to tell it in. If there were no gimmick it's hard to understand why one would want to see "An Oak Tree" at all. When the guest actor is introduced to the audience, Crouch tells him that he can stop the show and say he doesn't want to go on at any time. Often (and this may have been my imagination) Slotnick had the sick look of someone trapped in an embarrassing situation from which he is unable to extricate himself.

I felt sorry for Slotnick. But I felt sorrier for anyone who paid good money to see this abomination.

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