Their mother has deteriorated sharply and her three children have gathered to determine which facility to send her to. She has Alzheimer’s and has been looked after at home by one of her two daughters, Vicky (Tottie Goldsmith), but it is time to put her into full time care. Vicky has visited several places and assessed each one. That is what she is discussing with her brother and sister.
One that appeals to Vicky features a large magnolia tree, which holds great appeal because their mother’s favourite has been just that. The siblings talk about the magnolia tree in the front yard of their mum’s house. In it is a single cicada, which they could never find, even if they went looking. That is used as an analogy to her debilitating condition.
Vicky, a former gambler, insists she only wants the best facility for their mother. Jack (Ezra Bix), a successful salesman, and Deborah (Rohana Hayes), a single mother of two with ideas of buying a fruit and vegetable business, have other ideas. Jack hatches a plan to euthanise their mother, while Deborah is alarmed by the cost of care, once she learns just how expensive that can be.
As the play progresses, secrets about each of the children are uncovered and the outcome is far from certain. In fact, there are only two possible results – mum is murdered or she is not. And the way Michael Gray Griffith has written it (he also directs), we – the audience – get to decide, based upon a popular vote. Clever … and through dozens of performances, across a range of locations, the overall voting has been very tight.
The Magnolia Tree raises a critically important issue about care for those unable to look after themselves. Further, the issue of dignity isn’t lost either. But the primary focus is on the actions and motivations of the siblings, who are not afraid to call each other out. I appreciated the developments in the play – the introduction of more and more material, which fleshes out the trio’s back stories.
The performances are generally sound, though I thought the pacing could have been tightened. It was a little loose. The ending wasn’t as clear as it should have been. There was chatter among the audience afterwards as to what had actually happened. I would have preferred clarity over confusion. Some works benefit from an ambiguous ending, that is allowing us to put our own take on what goes down, but this isn’t one of those as all the way through The Magnolia Tree it is a question of will they or won’t they?
Still, conceptually, and in general, there is enough in the production – which takes the form of a moral dilemma without really dealing with the legal implications – to recommend it. For future dates and locations, go to https://www.wolvestheatre.com/magnolia-tree
Other reviews you might enjoy:
- Marooned (Wolves Theatre Company) – theatre review
- Scenes from a Marriage (QT) – theatre review
- All My Sleep and Waking (Old 505) – theatre review
Alex First is a Melbourne based journalist and communications specialist. He contributes to The Blurb on film and theatre.