Steven Levenson’s riveting drama The Language of Trees begins with translator Denton (the outstanding Michael Hayden) about to ship off to the Iraq War. As he tries to say goodbye to his wife, Loretta, excellent chemistry between the actors—Hayden and the lovely Natalie Gold—quickly gives us reason to root for his safe return. Full of nail-biting suspense, snappy dialogue, and skillful direction by Obie winner Alex Timbers (Les Freres Corbusier), the plot leaps back and forth between Denton’s perilous journey and stressed-out Loretta’s struggle to raise their seven-year-old son, Eben (played by Gio Perez, a short actor in his twenties). Elderly busybody neighbor Kay (Maggie Burke) provides comic relief throughout, while Eben—who believes his dad can talk to trees—manages to contact his father via an oak in one of the play’s more touching scenes (two scrims with images of trees and branches light up on either side of the family’s kitchen to serve as backdrops for the U.S. and Iraq). As sappy as that oak chatting sounds, it’s to Levenson’s great credit that these moments make us care rather than groan.
This article from the Village Voice Archive was posted on November 5, 2008