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Arts & Culture

Live Active Cultures

Orlando’s balance of old and new: 20th-century canvases and a world-premiere play just a few hundred yards apart.

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The title of Pine, the full-length drama Playwrights Round Table premiered at Orlando Shakes (playing through March 31), possesses dual meanings. As a noun, it’s the kind of Christmas tree Rita (Cira Larkin) raises on her farm; as a verb, it’s what she incessantly does over her late son, Colin (Samuel Butcher), who died five years ago but still haunts her troubled younger boy, Teddy (Kevin Fernandez). Rita’s baby-crazy daughter, Julie (Candy Heller), and her bland husband, Mike (Buddy Fales), followed by Colin’s ex-fiancé, Rachel (Kate Murray), and her new beau, Miles (Daniel Cooksley), all arrive for a belated Christmas dinner, making for the most stressful family meal I’ve seen since Texas Chainsaw Massacre.

Author Eugenie Carabatsos has several produced plays to her credit, but Pine’s structure is packed with freshman mistakes. Overstuffed with TV-style scenes that black out just as they peak, the script is unsure who its protagonists are, and director Kristen Dewey doesn’t help with a momentum-free first act and sluggish scene changes.

The mix of mawkish drama and awkward sex farce threatens to sink the show, but Pine is salvaged by a few fine performances. Though Rita initially appears irredeemably sour and hypercritical, Larkin lets us embrace the broken heart beneath her brittle surface. Butcher’s incorporeal anguish is admirably restrained, and he sparks an intriguing odd-couple relationship with Cooksley in the second act. While the rest of the cast moans and mugs, this trio carves a worthy path through Pine’s frigid forest.

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