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In Lyric Stage’s ‘Rooted,’ a tree grows on Clarendon Street

Karen MacDonald (left) and Lisa Tucker, who play sisters Hazel and Emery in Deborah Zoe Laufer's "Rooted," rehearse a scene on the treehouse set at Lyric Stage Company of Boston.Pat Greenhouse/Globe Staff

At Lyric Stage Company of Boston, a huge branch looms over set designer Janie E. Howland’s treehouse, where the action of Deborah Zoe Laufer’s “Rooted” takes place.

“Set designers,” says the playwright, “are the poets of the theater. A few design gestures, suggestions, can do so much to spark the audience’s imagination.”

Within the confines of the treehouse, the reclusive Emery experiments with plant behavior; meanwhile her sister Hazel waits tables at a nearby diner to provide for Emery’s needs. But when YouTube videos of Emery’s experiments go viral, she becomes the messiah of an odd cult, a turn of events that terrifies Emery but inspires Hazel with visions of easy money.


“We could have gone bigger with the treehouse set,” says director Courtney O’Connor, “but the tension and the humor in this play emerge from the constraints inherent in a life lived apart, where only a select few are allowed in.”

While all the action takes place inside the treehouse at the Clarendon Street theater, O’Connor says Laufer “has done a brilliant job building the details and vocabulary of this world, especially through the relationship between two sisters who are leaning into middle age, living full lives without serving simply as love interests for a man.”

“Rooted” and “Be Here Now,” which the Lyric produced last year (also directed by O’Connor), are part of a planned trilogy of plays set in a fictionalized version of the rural New York town where Laufer grew up. While “Be Here Now” explored the things we throw away that might have value (the protagonist, Bari, “throws away people,” Laufer says), “Rooted” looks at the expectations we have for each other that can lead to resentment or paralysis. The third play is still a work in progress.

"Rooted" playwright Deborah Zoe LauferNicolle Mac Williams

“The location is remote,” she says of her hometown in the Catskills. “There’s no real industry, and when I spend time up there, the rhythm is much different than in other places. The characters in my plays are eccentrics, but they are inspired by people I knew.”


There’s a simplicity in her characters that mixes with a bit of magical realism, says O’Connor. “We are working on finding the right tone between the sisters; balancing love and dependence with a bit of resentment and frustration.

“When I heard Lisa Tucker (Emery) and Karen MacDonald (Hazel) reading the script, I knew their voices and personalities provided the balance these characters need.”

The sisters’ relationship feels familiar, even if one is talking to plants that are acting in mysterious and magical ways, while the other is Googling “five steps to starting a cult.”

The amusing and uneasy rhythm of the sisters is shaken by the arrival of Luanne, the first person other than Hazel whom Emery accepts into the treehouse, after the young woman is injured by the surging crowd.

Luanne, who was also a character in “Be Here Now,” proves to be a catalyst for change in “Rooted.”

“I just love Luanne,” says Laufer. “She’s open-hearted and willing to believe in the most magical cult. At the same time, she shouldn’t be underestimated.”

The ending of “Rooted” does not provide a neat resolution.

“I like going to a place that’s dark and funny and a little uncomfortable,” says Laufer. “I’m working toward a hopeful, but not necessarily happy, ending.”


A trio of ‘Ladies Who Brunch’

The trio of performers who team up for Club Café's “The Ladies Who Brunch” often meet each other for the first time on the day of the show.

“At 10 a.m. on the scheduled Sunday, they meet the piano player, and each other, have a quick rehearsal, and then go on at noon,” says John O’Neil, a cabaret artist himself, who books the series at Club Café.

“They have to be brave — fearless, really — but everyone, including the audiences, have been very enthusiastic,” he says.

From left: Krystal Hernandez, Diane Ellis, and Tader Shipley, accompanied by pianist Tom Lamark, perform at a "Ladies Who Brunch" show at Club Café earlier this year.Josh Reynolds for The Boston Globe

The club’s intimate Napoleon Room, which seats just 50 people, offers a casual, close-up opportunity to experience singers who offer distinct styles. Each delivers two 15-minute sets before collaborating on Stephen Sondheim’s “Ladies Who Lunch.” Patrons can order food and cocktails, enjoy the show, and still be out by 2 p.m.

The series started in January as a once-a-month event, but when the first show, featuring Sarah deLima, Angela Bacari, and Pamela Enders, sold out, O’Neil knew he was on to something.

“I really didn’t know what to expect,” he says. “I wanted to create a ‘Sunday divertissement,’ an easy way for people to step out after being isolated for so long.”

“The Ladies Who Brunch” lineups reflect the rich diversity of female singers in Boston from the realms of cabaret, jazz, and musical theater. Upcoming shows feature Karen Kalafatas, Susan Lambert, and Cheryl D. Singleton (June 4); Jeanne Crowley, Sarah Kornfeld, and Mary Catherine Ward (June 18); and Margaret Ann Brady, Maureen Brennan, and Meagan Lewis-Michelson (June 25). Tickets are $20 and can be purchased at


Terry Byrne can be reached