Iowa City – Riverside Theatre closes its 30th anniversary Gilbert Street season with The Syringa Tree by South African playwright Pamela Gien. The show runs April 1-17, at Riverside Theatre, 213 N Gilbert St, Iowa City.
The Syringa Tree is a personal and deeply evocative story of an abiding love between two families---one black, one white---and the two children who are born into their shared household. The play follows these families’ destinies for four generations, from early apartheid to the present day free South Africa. Through the eyes of various characters---young, old, black, white, Afrikaans, Xhosa, Jewish, English---the complexities of the world they share are revealed.
The Syringa Tree is directed by Sean Christopher Lewis, an award winning playwright, actor, and director and features professional actor Saffron Henke, who takes on all roles in this production.
"Saffron plays around 20 characters of multiple ages, race and gender, often doing five or more characters in a single scene at one time,” Lewis said. “It's terrifying from the artistic end when you have to figure out the best way to make Saffron transform into a black South African at a student protest one minute and then see her walking the tarmac at an airport seconds later, but it's incredibly magical to see her pull it off. It's a truly heart-wrenching and impactful display of theatrical fireworks.”
“The way I’ve created all of these people has been to pick a simple gesture or vocal choice for each one that is very different from all the others,” Henke said.
Henke has performed all over the world and was the 2005 recipient of the Princess Grace Foundation Honorarium for Emerging Artists for her performance in The Syringa Tree at the Sacramento Theatre Company.
“When I did this show in 2005, I identified more with the children, especially six-year-old Lizzy who is the narrator. This time I’ve found that I identify more with the parents, particularly Lizzy’s mother, Eugenie. That’s surprising to me,” Henke said. “As I come back to these people, I still feel like I know them well but the way I think about them has changed.”
The Syringa Tree features scenic design by Shawn Johnson, costume design by Emily White, lighting design by Courtney Schmitz Watson, and sound design by Lewis.
Tickets are $26 for adults, $23 for 60 and over/30 and under, $12 for youth (18 and under). $12 student rush tickets are available 30 minutes prior to the show. Tickets can be purchased online or by phone at (319) 338-7672.