REVIEWSTheatre ReviewsTom Williams

The Bottle Tree

A World premiere.

By Beth Kander.

Directed by Amy Szerlong.

Produced by Stage Left Theatre.

At Theater Wit, Chicago.

After effects of gun violence explored from the shooter’s family perspective.


In Beth Kander’s world premiere drama, The Bottle Tree, the focus is on the rural Southern (Mississippi) gun culture. We meet Myrna Mason (Kathleen Ruhl) who is the matriarch of the poor-white-trash Mississippi Mason clan. Myrna is an old maid aunt to Rhoda (Christina Gorman) and her surviving daughter Alley (Katherine Acosta). Myrna is obsessed with the ghosts of her family. She believes in the hoodoo folk magic rural tradition. She has a Bottle Tree in her yard to help trap bad ghosts so that they will not influence her family.


Myrna is also an advocate of the gun culture that assumes that a child at around twelve should get their first gun, usually a rifle. Myrna teaches that the family guns are necessary to protect the family;  she preaches that if you must shot someone be sure to shoot them more that once.

More forward ten years: Alley is being interviewed for an anti-gun documentary by producer Rae (Toya Turner). This gets Alley to recount her terrible days in 2004 after her brother initiated a shooting at the high school that killed several students and the principal. We see how teenage Alley struggled with forgiveness, moving on and those lingering questions about why her brother targeted girls in his rampage. Alley is a smart-mouth defensive teen who battles with her mother and her psychologist Dr. Berlin (David Lawrence Hamilton). We also meet Alley’s schoolmates who are not so much effected by the shooting as it is a different high school and five years after the shooting.


What makes this anti-gun drama effective is the it doesn’t preach on the horrors of gun ownership but rather it focuses on the damage gun violence does to a community and to the family of a shooter. The struggle to survive one’s self-worth as an indirect victim of gun violence is vividly dramatized in this show. The folk magic myth of the bottle tree¬† anchors the rural mentality of these rural folks.

Katherine Acosta, as Alley and Kathleen Ruhl, as Myrna lead a cast that nicely present a picture of the rural past myths and the contemporary view of the gun culture that exists in America. Somehow the mental state of some individuals and guns don’t mix too well. The Bottle Tree demonstrates the volatile nature of the gun culture. Receiving your first gun should not be a right-of-passage for children. Consequences of that culture is too dangerous for society.The Bottle Tree makes a good case for abolishing guns without preaching against guns. This play is worthy of an audience.


Tom Williams.

Date Reviewed: October 22, 2016.

For more info checkout The Bottle Tree page at

At Theater W2- – $30, it, 1229 W. Belmont, Chicago, IL, call773-975-8150,, tickets $20 – $30, Thursdays – Saturdays at 8 pm, Sundays at 3pm, running time is 2hours with intermission, through November 20, 2016.