Tree’s Company, Forest’s a Crowd
Directed by Glen Pannell, Pete Mills, & Jeremy Desmon
Produced by the Princeton Triangle Club
Friday (Nov. 16) to Saturday (Nov. 17) at 8:00 PM and Sunday (Nov. 18) at 2:00 PM
$25-30 general, $10 for students
There is something reassuring about the fact that every November Princeton students and alumni make their way across campus to McCarter Theater to be part of that most hallowed of Princeton traditions, the Triangle Fall Show. It is even more reassuring that, no matter how much the different shows vary, a mainstay of each one is the iconic all-male drag kick-line.
To someone completely unacquainted with Princeton history, the reverence in which the Triangle show is held may seem strange. To those who believe that a high level of education inclines us only toward complete seriousness, the special place that this unabashedly silly production holds in all of our hearts would perhaps seem downright disturbing. Yet the existence of the Triangle show, I believe, represents something very good about Princeton – and about us.
This year’s show, Tree’s Company, Forest’s a Crowd, displayed all the characteristic traits of a good Triangle show. As opposed to last year’s Doomsdays of Our Lives, in which a central narrative featured prominently, this year’s plot was not of major importance. The trio of Evan Strasnick ’15, Alex Morton ’15, and Maeve Brady ’15 – who leave their oppressive city lives to experience the wonders of the great outdoors – is not the main feature of the show. While their story is consistent, it is spread out widely between the other scenes. This year’s show featured a brilliant array of sketches that fell under the general heading of the great outdoors but did not form a coherent narrative.
As a result, Tree’s Company was amusing in constantly changing ways. The “great outdoors” is a big topic, and the show approached it from a variety of different angles. Among the most successful sketches were those that made fun of stereotypical woodsy characters. Among my personal favorite was a brief sketch in which Smokey the Bear (Max Rubin ’14) shows up in the bedroom of a youngster (Brian Lax ’15) because only Brian, in fact, can prevent forest fires. Another in the same vein was “Ranger Danger,” a macho song that celebrates the not exactly death-defying exploits of forest rangers. The theme, however, proved very flexible. It was extended to include a reference to Richard Connell’s “The Most Dangerous Game” and a wonderful parody featuring Sean Drohan ’14 of a curious logical conundrum: getting a fox, a chicken, and a bag of grain across the stream.
These sketches usually fit into two very general categories: those with songs and those without. This distinction is important because each scene relies on a particular joke. The scenes with songs show the most variation because the joke and the scene are weighted differently. For instance, in two stunning all-female numbers, “Don’t Cut Me Down” and “Hot Flashes,” the joke is always present but is only a support for the song. An audience member might giggle at the fact that, in the latter sketch, an aging Mother Earth (Sarah Anne Sillers ’13) equates global warming with menopause, but the main attraction of the scene is Siller’s truly wonderful voice. Conversely, in “Ranger Danger,” the humor is central, while the actual song is secondary.
There were, of course, scenes that featured no songs, and these were the riskiest. Some, like the Smokey the Bear scene, came off wonderfully, but others, while funny, did not have quite the same effect. There were a few scenes that relied on a list technique: that is, they provided the characters with an opportunity to rattle off jokes until the scene ended. Without the added interest of a song, such scenes risked dragging on as the initial theme became stale. Very few scenes actually did drag in the production I watched; I am merely commenting on a potential danger.
But why does this silly bunch of sketches say something good about Princeton? For its very silliness. Whatever you can say about the sketches in Tree’s Company, you can’t say they are “serious.” This is not to say that the actors, stage hands, musicians, directors, choreographers, and so on did not take them seriously. Rather, they are not moralizing or satirical but stubbornly lighthearted. Even songs like “Hot Flashes” which bring up potentially “serious” topics brush the oppressive bits aside easily. The goal of Tree’s Company is simple: to reduce the audience to pure laughter. Not the halfhearted chuckles or bitter shouts that accompany satire or a comedic relief in a tragedy, but full-on, sides-shaking, tear-inducing laughter such as can only be produced by straightforward silliness.
This kind of laughter is unspeakably important for a reason that is unspeakably clichéd. Being serious all the time makes human beings unhappy. Princeton students have the ability to be remarkably serious and therefore remarkably worried. For some of us, this worry centers on prosaic things – our classes, our grades, our social lives, our futures. One look on Princeton FML can give one a sense of these latent frustrations. For others, this worry is the product of the helpless struggle to be something, to change something in the world. While the education and opportunities given by this University are among the greatest of privileges, they can often become burdens as well.
This show had the ability to remove this worry. For a blessed two and a half hours or so, we are enclosed in a particularly special Orange Bubble, separated from everything that makes us cross and bickerish in our normal lives. Instead, we get to marvel at the talent and laugh at the silliness of the actors who devote themselves to creating this salutary spectacle. Shouting with laughter, we simply forget everything that usually oppresses us.
I am therefore reassured by what Triangle says about Princeton and Princetonians. Rooted deep within the Princeton philosophy is an acknowledgment of the necessity of laughter. It protects us from becoming disenchanted, unhappy, and unpleasant. Princetonians seems to recognize the truth of what Henry Drummond says in Inherit the Wind: “When a man loses his ability to laugh, he loses his ability to think straight.” Through the songs, the sketches, the kick-line, and the laughter, the Triangle Show saves us from seriousness and keeps us sane.