It’s Sunday morning. We’re standing outside Highland Bakery in midtown Atlanta waiting for our brunch party to arrive. We tell the hostess there will be eight. Then comes a text. Better make that 10. Another text: How about a dozen? Text: Can we add two more? Four more? After a while I lose count.
We make our own family reunions. Wherever. On the spot. Sunday’s was a melange of the Williams, the Rays, the Alladices and the Cains. From Atlanta, Macon, D.C., Stanford, Chicago.
“So how is he/she related?” He’s my mother’s cousin Otto’s son. That’s cousin Catherine’s granddaughter. Byron’s daughter. Judy’s daughter. Ricky’s daughter. Darryl’s sister. Joy and Jasper’s eldest. Then there were the godchildren, the boyfriends, the sister/girlfriends and ex-girlfriends who will always be family.
The hostess finally said, “We’re never going to be able to seat you at one table.”
No problem. We hope it is always like this: a family capable of its own flash mob.
And speaking of family trees, if you are in the Atlanta area next weekend, be sure to check out Tree at the Horizon Theater. Written by award-winning writer Julie Hébert, Tree is a masterfully crafted, complex tale about family ties – those we know about, those we come upon by accident and those that have been purposely kept in the closet with the skeletons.
Tree is a story about letters. Love letters, written between a young white man named Ray and a young black woman, Jessalyn, in the 50s. A love so tender, so pure and naive that the young lovers were willing to defy Jim Crow and every other southern Louisiana convention to be together. Well, nearly every convention. Ultimately, they couldn’t make it work. So they buried their dream and moved on.
But memory, like love, is a hard thing to suppress.
When Ray dies and his adult daughter, Didi, finds hundreds of Jessalyn’s letters, she tracks down Jessalyn, by then living in Chicago, her mind ravaged by dementia. She wants the letters her father has written to Jessalyn so she can complete that 50-year-old conversation.
The story had the potential to be overwrought and full of clichés. But in the hands of Hébert and with fine acting and directing, the language is poetic, even at its most profane. The characters are authentic and the story intriguing.
Tree runs Wednesday, Oct. 12 through Sunday, Oct. 16, at Horizon Theatre 1083 Austin Avenue NE, corner of Euclid and Austin Avenues.
The cast includes Donna Briscoe, Megan Hayes, Geoffrey D. Williams and Joy Brunson and is directed by Lisa Adler.
Here’s a clip: