The Semen Tree

By Angel Abcede
Directed by Byron Stewart
Music by Robin D'aniel
Angelco Productions
New York Fringe Festival
Non-union production (closed)
Review by Doug DeVita

Sweeping onto the stage in full Oriental drag, like Rosalind Russell in the opening scene of Auntie Mame, Angel Abcede assumed a startlingly instant intimacy that was embarrassingly uncomfortable. Batting his eyes, shuffling his gait, giggling with high-pitched ferocity, his limp-wristed arms constantly flailing, the tiny basement theatre in which he performed his autobiographical work The Semen Tree could barely contain this larger-than-life, in-your-face Gaysian persona, which may be exactly what Abcede intended. For Abcede soon stated that he is all about exploding clichés, especially those concerning the Gay, Asian, American male.

Little by little, Abcede peeled away the layers of his life, stripping himself down to nothing but the naked rage that fuels his existence. Inviting his audience to enter into his brain, he embarked on a journey that was at times fascinating, at times brutal, at times incoherent, and at times infuriating. For Abcede, like Christine Mosere and her recent Fringe offering Femme, assumed a general interest in his highly personal story. And like Mosere, he fell into the trap of theatre as therapy. He talked, he sang, he danced, but every time a genuine emotion threatened to boil over, his rage at being born Asian, Catholic, and Gay took precedence; he lost his perspective, he lost his sense of humor, and he lost his audience by withdrawing into his head. The endless spew, along with the endless theorizing about masturbation, penis size, and the Miss Saigon complex (apparently common to most Gay Asian men) soon got tiresome. (By the way, Mr. Abcede, check out who wrote Miss Saigon. If nothing else, at least get your facts straight.)

Not much was made of the tree of the title (relegated to a charming, but brief, anecdote), nor was much made of his apparently rocky relationship with his father, except for some brief mentions early in the piece and a denouement that seemed calculated to be an emotional highlight of the breakthrough variety. The Sinatra-like musical finale also felt calculated and spurious; intended to be a devastating comment on all that preceded, it came across as "the happy feel good number to send the audience out humming" type of ending that producers like to tack on and audiences see right through.

The stage was cluttered (unnecessarily) with boxes and boxes and boxes of props (a visual metaphor, perhaps?), slides of Abcede's family and the key events of his life were projected on the back wall, the costumes (Jimmie David) were plentiful and colorful, and the lighting (Laura Walczak) was as clear and as unvarying as Abcede's rage. Robin D'aniel provided an innocuously melodic score, Abcede choreographed some snappy numbers for himself, and Byron Stewart's direction, if unsubtle, kept things moving at a fairly quick pace. Would that it all came together with the brilliance that was hoped for, hinted at, but ultimately shied away from. Especially after that ballsy, conceptual opening, which promised so much daring and delivered so little that actually was.

Box Score:

Writing: 1
Directing: 1
Acting: 1
Set: 1
Costumes: 1
Lighting/Sound: 1

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Copyright 2003 Doug DeVita