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‘The Tree’ poses tough questions about aging

Wednesday, April 11, 2018

LAWRENCE – Two years after it was filmed in this area and after a year of kudos on the film-festival circuit, the dramatic film “The Tree” is set to live on as an advocacy tool for the compassionate treatment of older people.

Department of Theatre Lecturer Laura Kirk co-stars in the film and takes associate producer credit as well. In it, she plays Marge McMillan, the neighbor of the film’s 88-year-old protagonist, Dorothy Thorp, played by veteran Kansas City actress Joicie Appell.

Kirk and her real-life husband, fellow actor Paul Fellers, play Thorp’s neighbors. They function in the story much as the protagonist’s adult children would – if she had any around – expressing concern that the elderly woman is about to undertake a solo road trip that serves as the story’s main dramatic action.

“If you have a parent who is aging, or an aunt or uncle, and you are concerned for them, this film speaks to you,” Kirk said in a recent interview. “If you are aging and you want to stay independent; if you don’t want people meddling in your life and you want to make your own decisions, but the world has gotten really fast, it’s a great film for you. It’s got a wide audience.”

Without giving away the plot, Kirk said “The Tree” can serve as an impetus to family discussions about how to deal with the effects of aging.

“We don’t have these conversations until it’s a crisis, until it’s almost too late,” Kirk said. “You don’t take away the car keys before someone crashes into the store because she hit the gas instead of the brakes.

“The film makes it easier to talk about it because you are watching someone else’s story, and then you can say, ‘I wonder what I should do about this?’”

Kirk called Appell’s performance in the film “flawless.” Appell has worked on stage, screen and television, including a role on the classic CBS soap opera “Guiding Light.”

Kirk’s acting credits include 2016’s “American Honey” with Shia LaBeouf and Kevin Willmott’s 2009 “The Only Good Indian” with Wes Studi. She has a co-starring role as well in the 2015 film “Parallel Chords,” a family drama set in the world of classical music, playing at 7:45 p.m. Saturday, April 14, at the Kansas City Film Festival.

“The Tree” was directed by Stephen Wallace Pruitt and co-written by Pruitt and his wife, Mary Settle Pruitt. Stephen Wallace Pruitt is a professor and chair of business and finance at the Henry W. Bloch School of Management at the University of Missouri-Kansas City. Other Kansas City-area actors featured in the film include Kip Niven, who played Phog Allen in Willmott’s 2014 film “Jayhawkers,” and Scott Cordes.

Kirk said she received associate producer credit on “The Tree” for her work in connecting the filmmakers with officials of the Lawrence-based nonprofit Kansas Advocates for Better Care and for her help in promoting the film in various other ways.

Laura Meyer Pfeifer, director of development and outreach for KABC, said she is working on a series of showings of “The Tree” as part of her outreach efforts.

“Our desire is to schedule showings in various communities across Kansas in conjunction with a senior-resource event where we can make people aware of KABC as well as other senior resources in their communities,” Meyer Pfeifer said. “It helps create awareness about KABC and the services and support we provide to older adults and families as they try to find quality long-term care, including care at home, assisted living and nursing facilities. Additionally, we hope to identify new financial partners who have a heart for vulnerable older adults and want to support our work with a financial gift.”

The Free State Festival will present a special showing of “The Tree” at 2 p.m. Sunday, April 22, at Liberty Hall. Kirk, Fellers, Appell and the Pruitts will all take part in a Q&A afterward. For ticket information, visit www.libertyhall.net.

“The Tree” is also available for purchase directly from the filmmakers at thetreemotionpicture.com.

Photos: Laura Kirk (above) co-stars in ‘The Tree’ as a concerned neighbor of the elderly woman played by Joicie Appell. Photos courtesy the filmmakers.