#fringebuzz with Jen Viens of Rootless Tree
by Caleigh Crow
Twisted Tree Studio presents Rootless Tree, a world premiere of JP Livingston’s play about two women forced to share a household – and husband. Norma and June move in together during the Great Depression, a practice common for those men who had multiple spouses, preferring to combine households rather than leaving one completely destitute. It’s obviously not ideal for Norma and June, who are stuck on an existential and temporal loop waiting for their husband to return home, but things get even more complicated when a mysterious stranger appears in the middle of the night.
QDF sat down with Jen Viens, who plays the role of Norma to talk about the show. While an audience member reading the synopsis might think it’s a relatively straightforward concept, Jen says the work will include heightened performances that will veer into the paranormal.
“We’re playing a little bit with absurdity in this play, it’s written to take place in the 1930s, but we’re playing with timelines, wormholes, and other dimensions, and this idea of being nonlinear time and being stuck on a loop for eternity,” Jen explains. “The comedy is written darkly so the comedy comes out in the way that it’s directed, the way the performers are portraying the characters is a little absurd and larger than life.”
The show is going up in the Freestanding Room, a favourite for lovers of immersive theatre. Jen says while the show doesn’t use immersive theatre techniques, “there’s something interesting that happens when you’re that close to the energy of another person.” She continues, “They become part of the performance instead of being separate from it. It makes it very intense and electric on a different level.”
Jen understandably doesn’t want to give the mystery around the plot, but very earnestly informs me of the themes of the show. “The play addresses a lot of issues that are very close to me. Issues of mental health among women, and the attitude people have towards them – is it legitimate or is it hysteria – and looking at it in the context of the great depression,” Jen continues, “The need to self-identify and to discover what sense of place and what home means and who you are within that context and the search for meaning.”
For Jen, the play is also an exploration of the ramifications of those issues, and how they affect our relationships with each other. “Norma and June are doing things that seem completely ridiculous, and you might wonder why they don’t do something different. But, as many of us experience, there’s are reason we get stuck in a spot we can’t get out of,” Jen remarks. “What is it about us, the relationships that keep us stuck, from moving from where we are? Why do we do the things that we do and how do we define ourselves and our own sense of self-worth and our own motivations?”
See Rootless Tree at the Freestanding Room from June 1 – 17 as part of OFF FRINGE at the St Ambroise Montreal Fringe Festival.