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The Global Film Village: Julie Hebert’s TREE a moving and poetic World Premiere play at [Inside] the Ford

by Marla Lewin

photo by Ed Krieger

Tree is a metaphor for the roots, branches, and leaves of a family. It seems both solid and enduring. TREE by Julie Hebert depicts three generations, divided by race, culture, time, and location.  Leo Price (Chuma Gault) is a divorced chef who is caring for an aging mother with dementia (Sloan Robinson) with the help of his college-age daughter, J.J. (Tessa Thompson). They connect when Didi Marcantel (Jacqueline Wright) a southern white woman barges into his life with a provocative cache of love letters she has recently discovered written by her deceased father leading her to seek out an African American half-brother living in Chicago. From the addled memories of his mother, Jessalyn Price come new and contradictory stories of her dangerous interracial romance with Didi and Leo’s father.


Julie Hebert grew up in the deep South and lived through the turbulence of integration and the official and unofficial repeal of Jim Crow laws.  “I have a good friend, from a small town in south Louisiana near where I grew up.  We share that culture and have much in common, but because she is African American her experience growing up was vastly different from mine. This play is an attempt to have a deep, true conversation between people who are linked in many ways, but separated by race.”


Race relations is only one thematic layer in Hebert’s intricate and highly theatrical new work. Hebert’s provocative, poetic and powerfully moving new play asks: How can we move past racial differences and find a common language? When I spoke with Julie, after the show, and said it was “sensitive,” she was pleased. That was her intent. She eloquently melds realism with poetry, TREE is about family and memories.  A few of the cast members told me how the story so touched their own lives, and gave them greater understanding of living with parents who are aging, and not able to relate mentally with them. The performances are terrific.  Sloan Robinson playing the mother, told me she has been doing a one woman show on Josephine Baker for the last two years, and this was a stretch for her.  She embodies the character, and is brilliant.


I remember seeing Julie’s earlier play True Beauties, also set in the south, which was performed outside at the Loyola Marymount campus. We were both members of Padua Hills Playwrites.  Julie has always been a brilliant writer. Her Almost Asleep, was also performed as a production at Padua. It had women in a cage, their voices ranting through centuries, releasing pain and suffering.



photo by Ed Krieger

I asked Julie if she felt this new work was her most personal play yet, and she said yes, “Tree, was partially inspired by the 200-plus letters that her father wrote to her mother during the Korean War when he was only 19. The idea that your parents had a life before you, that is unknown and very mysterious to a child.  Who was this boy who became my father? He seemed so different in the letters, so full of dreams, that really didn’t manifest in his later life.”  Julie was excited by the idea that she might have been inspired by Padua Hills founder Sam Shepard, whoseBuried Child was performed at John Lyons’ Magic Theatre. The characters have a realness to them that just hooks you in and all of the actors are equally superb. There is real tension between them that ebbs and flows as the story is revealed. There are soft tender moments and anger that emerges from slights and old wounds. You forget that you are watching a play and start rooting for these characters as you understand their lives and needs.


Julie is currently a co-Executive Producer for the CBS series Numb3rs, for which she both writes and has directed. Julie Hebert’s career started in San Francisco with the Eureka Theater, the Magic Theater and Intersection for the Arts. She then went on to work throughout the country with the Los Angeles Theater Center, San Diego Rep, Steppenwolf, Provincetown Playhouse, Circle Rep, La MaMa and many others. She was an early member of the Bay Area Playwrights Festival and a long-time member of the Padua Hills Playwrights Festival.  She also served as Artistic Director of Theater at the Contemporary Arts Center in New Orleans for four years.


Julie’s plays include: Touch the Water; Abe Lincoln’s Dog; The Knee Desires the Dirt; Almost Asleep; True Beauties; St. Joan and the Dancing Sickness; In the Privacy of Strangers; and Ruby’s Bucket of Blood, which she also adapted into a film for Showtime starring Angela Bassett. Julie wrote the screenplays for Female Perversions (October Films), All-American Girl: The Mary Kay LeTourneau Story(USA), and Lying Awake (HBO) adapted from the novel by Mark Salzman.  In 2002, Julie received a Peabody Award for In Their Own Words, a documentary film of interviews with survivors of the 9/11 attacks in New York.


Jessica Kubzansky directs the first play in EST-LA’s new season of original works by Los Angeles playwrights. “The language is lyrical, rich and infused with the cadences of French Louisiana,” notes Kubzansky, “TREE is about investigating the past and its impact on the future. It’s about being part of the sandwich generation, what happens when you end up taking care of other people’s lives instead of your own?  It’s about discovering in the middle of your life that there’s another person on the planet who might just ‘get’ you enough to push you to face yourself.”


Jessica is the co-Artistic Director of The Theatre @ Boston Court in Pasadena and an award-winning director working around the country at the Pasadena Playhouse, Geffen Playhouse, South Coast Rep, Portland Center Stage, Mark Taper Forum/Kirk Douglas New Works, Laguna Playhouse, Aurora, and American Stage Co. Kubzansky specializes in new work; recent world premieres include Gulls; Salamone/McIntyre’s musical adaptation of The Seagull; Mickey Birnbaum’s Bleed Rail; Carlos Murillo’sUnfinished American Highwayscape #9 & 32; Jean-Claude van Itallie’s Light; Cody Henderson’s Cold/Tender (all at T@BC); Kubzansky received the 2004 Los Angeles’ Drama Critics’ Circle’s Margaret Harford Award for Sustained Excellence in Theater.


Ensemble Studio Theatre-LA is one of Los Angeles’ premier developmental and producing theaters and an offshoot of the renowned New York company that developed many of the most accomplished voices in the American theater, including Christopher Durang, Richard Greenberg, David Mamet, Marsha Norman, Jose Rivera, Shel Silverstein, John Patrick Shanley and Wendy Wasserstein.  EST-LA develops and produces new work by established and emerging playwrights, and provides a lifelong artistic home to its membership of over 150 theater professionals led by Artistic Directors Tom Jacobson and Gates McFadden, Managing Director Lukus Grace, and acting Producing Director Isabel Storey.


About the cast:

photo by Ed Krieger

Chuma Gault (Leo Price) previously appeared in Ensemble Studio Theatre-LA productions of Stage Directions(LA Weekly Award for Comedy Ensemble); Love Water; and The Last Seder.  He was nominated for the LA Weekly Award for Best Actor in a Lead Role for Miss Julie (Fountain Theatre).


Sloan Robinson (Jessalyn Price) received the 2001 NAACP Theatre Award for Best Female Lead for her portrayal of Dorothy Dandridge in the one woman tour de force Yesterday Came Too Soon… The Dorothy Dandridge Story by Jamal Williams.  The production, co-produced by Ms. Robinson’s company, Do It Yourself Productions, also received seven other nominations.  She received the award again in 2004 for her autobiographical one woman play It’s A Good Thing I Knew How To Dance, also co-produced by DIYP, as well as four other nominations for the production.  Ms. Robinson’s one woman play,Bananas! A Day In The Life Of Josephine Bakergarnered her a 2008 NAACP nomination as Best Female Lead, and the play won Best Music Director and Best Costumes.


Tessa Thompson (J.J. Price) theater credits include Pyrenees (CTG at the Kirk Douglas); Romeo and Juliet: Antebellum New Orleans 1836Summertime; Pera Palas (The Theater @ Boston Court); Twelfth Night (A Noise Within); Indoor/Outdoor (The Colony); and Stupid Kids (Celebration Theater).  TV credits include regular roles on the CW’s Veronica Mars and Hidden Palms; recurring roles on this season of Heroes and Private Practiceand appearances on Life; Mental; Grey’s Anatomyand Cold Case.  Ms. Thompson recently won a Grand Jury Prize for her work in the critically acclaimed independent feature Mississippi DamnedUpcoming films include PeripheryExquisite Corpse;Red & Blue Marbles; and Everyday Black Man.  She is a member of the esteemed classical company Antaeus and sings locally with the LA Ladies Choir.


Jacqueline Wright (Didi Marcantel) theater roles include: Land Lady in Killers; Tommy in Eat Me (LA Weekly nomination); Richard in Richard III; Buddy in Buddy Buddette;Clytemnestra in Clyt at Home (LA Weekly Award); Emilia in And Still The Dogs (LA Weekly nomination); and covering the role of Catherine in By the Waters of Babylonat the Geffen Playhouse.  Films credits: Burn After ReadingEnough10,000 Days;Wednesday AgainNorth Country; WalkoutPaul McCarthy’s Caribbean Pirates; and Catherine Sullivan’s Five Economies.  As a playwright, Jacqueline’s plays have been produced by The Echo Theatre Company, EST, Theatre of Note, Cal Arts, Occidental College, HBO, The Road and Circus Theatrics.  Her production of Eat Mereceived six LA Weekly nominations including playwriting.  Her production of Spider Bites ran at Theatre of Note and her play Love Water recently premiered as an EST-LA/Open Fist co-production.



photo by Ed Krieger

Scenic and Lighting Design for TREE are by Brian Sidney Bembridge; Original Music and Sound Design are by Bruno Louchouarn; Costume Design is by Leah Piehl; Production Stage Manager is Rebecca Cohn; Associate Producer is Rod Menzies; and Laura Jane Salvato and Isabel Storey produce for EST-LA.


The 2009-10 Season at [Inside] the Ford is supported by the Los Angeles County Arts Commission and the Ford Theatre Foundation, with funding from the National Endowment for the Arts. TREE is presented with the support of the Harold and Mimi Steinberg Charitable Trust and the Hollywood Foreign Press Association.


TREE runs ThursdaysFridays and Saturdays at 8 pm and Sundays at 3 pm and 7pmNovember 7 through December 13. There will be oneWednesday evening performance onDecember 9 at 8 pm. Thursday November 26 (Thanksgiving) will be dark.  Two previews take place on Thursday, November 5 and Friday, November 6, both at 8 pm. General admission is $20; seniors and full-time students with ID are $12; previews and all Thursday evening performances are Pay-What-You-Can.


[Inside] the Ford is located in the Ford Theatres complex at 2580 Cahuenga Blvd. EastHollywood, CA 90068, just off the 101 Hollywood Freeway across from the Hollywood Bowl and south of Universal Studios.  On-site, non-stacked parking is free.  For reservations and information, call the Ford Theatres Box Office at323.461.3673 (323.GO1.FORD) or go to


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About MarlaLewinGFV

Lewin Marla
(Global Film Village)

Marla is a producer, playwright, screenwriter, publicist and now a journalist. She attends 12 to 20 film festivals per year. She has spoken on filmmaking at many festivals including Cannes and SXSW.


Los Angeles

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