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Thousand Pines Cast
L-R: William Ragsdale, Katie Ailion, Joby Earle, Andrew Veenstra, Kelly McAndrew, and Anne Bates in “Thousand Pines,” written by Matthew Greene, directed by Austin Pendleton, at Westport Country Playhouse, now playing through November 17. Photo by Carol Rosegg

Theater Review (Westport, CT): Austin Pendleton Directs ‘Thousand Pines’ at Westport Country Playhouse

Thousand Pines Cast
“Thousand Pines,” written by Matthew Greene, directed by Austin Pendleton, at Westport Country Playhouse, now playing through November 17. Photo by Carol Rosegg

Thousand Pines by Matthew Greene is a play that is mired in sorrow. It’s all too-timely subject matter is one that we have seen repeatedly in the news, and sadly was once again repeated in a bar in California. Presented as part of the Westport Country Playhouse’s New Works Initiative, Thousand Pines is about three families in the aftermath of a school shooting, trying to recover from the unthinkable. It is ultimately a story of grief, recovery, and healing. There are no gunshots fired during the play, nor does it debate the merits of gun control versus the right to bear arms, but it is difficult to watch and could be a trigger for anyone suffering the after-effects of a shooting.

Despite its heavy subject matter, Thousand Pines is a solid play that has some lighter moments as well as a few punches, including a couple of twists that really cause you to think about school shootings from different angles. One set of actors play the differing members of all three families and it was interesting to watch their transformations from one character to another. Credit should go to actors Katie Ailion, Anne Bates, Joby Earle, Kelly McAndrew, William Ragsdale, and Andrew Veenstra.  Under the direction of Austin Pendleton, these actors were able to embody the full range of emotions for each of their characters with their individual grieving styles and levels of recovery. The playwright gave us everything – for some reason I thought of the D’s: the deniers, the detached, the do-somethings, and do-gooders, and the depressed.

The set by Walt Spangler worked well; no changes between scenes made it obvious that these families lived in identical tract houses from the same community. Sound designer and composer Ryan Rumery provided the music to set the mood. Unfortunately, the opening music was funereal – warning the audience in advance that this play would not be easy. The costume by designer Barbara Bell also worked well, highlighting the differences between the individual families and their circumstances.

The end of the play hinted at the tiniest spark of hope and healing for these families. However, I did not leave the play with any sense of relief about the state of our world or the prospect of putting an end to mass shootings. I was let down that this is just the new state of our country, another something to worry about for myself and for future generations to come. I am not sure if it was enough to spark a conversation, other than leaving the theater wondering how do we make it stop; how can we fix the world so this worry goes away? I don’t think Thousand Pines comes close to providing those answers.

Knowing that the subject will raise a lot of questions, there are enhanced programming events from Westport Country Playhouse available to continue the discussion:

Wednesday, November 14 there will be a talk on the Constitutional Context of Gun Laws at 6:30 pm, featuring Sujata Gadkar-Wilcox, Associate Professor of Legal Studies at Quinnipiac University.

Through November 17 the Westport Country Playhouse Gallery will exhibit artwork in response to gun violence in partnership with #Unload: Aiming for Change and the Artists Collective of Westport.

Thousand Pines runs through November 17 at Westport Country Playhouse.

About Cindy Cardozo

Freelance Writer and Critic: Music, Theater, Film, and TV.

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