American Players Theatre
5950 Golf Course Road
P.O. Box 819
Spring Green, WI 53588
With very good reason, many of you will see The Syringa Tree simply to witness Colleen Madden playing all 24 of the play's characters. And, needless to say, you will not be let down: after all, this very combination of script, actor, and director has created near-legendary results in the past, at Milwaukee's Renaissance Theaterworks. The Syringa Tree takes place against the backdrop of apartheid-era South Africa. It deals in the shame that so often comes with knowledge, the corruption that can belie beauty, and the innocence rarely maintained as we grow up. That innocence is particularly hard to hold on to for the privileged white girl at the core of this story. Uncomfortable questions (why do we love a land capable of atrocities simply because it is “home”?) give way to uncomfortable answers —and devastating conclusions.
I think you're in for a rare treat.
I consider The Syringa Tree a unique theatrical event, a loving tribute to the powerful and joyous art of storytelling. It has a rich, textured script that spans a number of decades, embraces many cultures and travels across continents. One extremely versatile actress, using little more than her voice, body and rich imagination, transforms into a variety of characters, male and female, old and young, black and white. All in the blink of an eye.
And don't worry. You don't need to know the history of South Africa to understand the universal themes in this play. I guarantee you will relate to this very personal story and the issues that surface here.
Our protagonist is Elizabeth Grace, a privileged, young white girl growing up in the confusing world of apartheid. She struggles with her deep love for and devotion to her homeland vs. her shame over the questionable ethics of her fellow countrymen. As the character of Zephyr so eloquently tells her, “We carry the sin of our brother.” Once she acknowledges that sin, her innocence is lost.
I'm a big fan of The Syringa Tree. It's full of humor and pathos and humanity, profoundly moving in a way that only the best theatre can be.
- C. Michael Wright