The artist who calls himself Mur has written a musical about trees. On the surface, artist and subject differ greatly. Trees can live for thousands of years; a spruce in Sweden is said to be more than 9,500 years old. Mur is 35. Trees thrive in forests, Mur in New York City.
But trees are surprisingly social and actively communicate with one another, albeit in mysterious ways that scientists are only beginning to study, according to “The Hidden Life Of Trees” by Peter Wohlleben. And much the same can be said about Mur, who was inspired by Wohlleben’s book to create “Trees.” Mur seems to be social, he likes to communicate, but he sometimes does so in mysterious ways, at least in “Trees.”
“Trees” was a full-length stage musical scheduled to debut at LaMaMa in April, but never got the chance; it has been turned into a 30-minute video, which is online at The Wild Project through January 1, 2021, starring four women as an ensemble of oaks, willows and redwoods, and Mur as a human. The LaMaMa website describes the plot of the stage musical: “The story follows the education of a young tree who just lost her mother. The other trees in the forest gather to teach the young tree about life and death on a polluted world.”
This is the story, more or less, of the video as well, although I had to watch it several times, and get them to send me the libretto, to grasp this, and then only vaguely. This is a poetic rather than a narrative musical, although the premise is set out in the first song:
There’s a window in the sky now
Where your mother used to live
You can’t see her. But she’s with us
In the wisdom that she gives
Through her roots and through her whisper
Through the summer and the rain
In the carbon in the forest
In a life that’s free of pain
We will teach you all her lessons
Of the blossom and the bark
How the wind blows in the morning
And to find light in the dark
When paired with Mur’s music, this is gorgeous and evocative, as are all eight of Mur’s lush, eerily melodic and rhythmically repetitive songs in the piece, with titles like “Oak” and “Willow” and “Stop The Fire.” The songs are performed by a cast that’s singing, dancing and posing in a way that often suggests plant life, but they do not straightforwardly portray anthropomorphic characters. The performers are dressed in elegant tight-fitting evening gowns of vivid primary colors (Aisha Kerensa in blue, Haley Fortune in yellow, Jade Litaker in aqua, and Nyah Raposo in red), but also at various times in black slips, sparkling disco dresses, tacky nude suits and other outlandish outfits, as well as clown makeup. In between the songs, we see Mur acting like a stylist, helping the cast dress and do their makeup, as if preparing for a photo shoot.
If they’re supposed to be trees, why do we see them changing into their dresses and applying makeup? (Is that a metaphor? The changing of the seasons? The death of old trees? Is it saying that trees are fashionable?) And why are the closing credits in French? Are these clues, or affectations?
No matter. This is a lyrical, non-linear work that gains beauty with each viewing, and intrigued me enough to look at more Mur. What I found (samples below) was shorter, whimsical and more immediately accessible. Taken together, it convinced me this is somebody whose art will grow solidly in the years ahead, and branch out, and bear fruit.
Mur supplies the necessary context for this last one beneath the video.