The Flowers

Written by Adam Bock
Directed by Trip Cullman

At the StageLeft Theatre in Chicago
Produced by About Face Theatre

A review by M. D. Ball of the performance on October 24, 2009

Perhaps I set my expectations inaccurately from the author's program notes, but the interesting questions he raised therein were not matched by his treatment of them on stage. Adam Bock's new play, The Flowers, being produced by About Face Theatre, entertains. But it doesn't challenge.

What I mean, of course, is that it does bring to the fore issues that gay men and women face, whether by force or by choice, and whether deliberately or automatically. And such issues certainly can provoke conversation after the curtain falls. However, the abruptness and frequency of scene changes, the feeling of rapidity, and the sometimes-embarrassing theatricality all cripple this play by leaving us indifferent toward the characters themselves. Development suffers and relationships remain superficial because there's neither time to come to know the characters nor an invitation from them to do so. Consequently, the audience isn't challenged to understand these people. The actors in this production relied on simplistic exaggerated characterizations that made the show amusing but that robbed it of any profundity it purported to have.

The core of the story is a conflict that occurs within a same-sex couple who owns a theatre company. One of the men wants to discontinue the enterprise in favor of new adventures, while the other wants to maintain the status quo. Although the former does eventually leave, the altercation that brings them to that point is both sudden and brief, too sudden and too brief for the audience to have a vested interest in its outcome. There's no foundation for the split. Worse yet, we don't receive any insight into the latter partner's reasons, apart from the obvious ones, for resisting the proposition.

The author wanted us to recognize a correspondence between the plays-within-a-play and the melodramas off stage. There was supposedly a parallel evolution in the characters and in their understanding of reality. This technique might have succeeded had the About Face players carried out the context-switching more sharply. But it was sloppy. And that imprecision capped the other problems I mentioned above to keep this play from being more than just entertaining.

On a positive note, I can say that the story does move along, and it does so without being formulaic. The plot has some cleverness, there are hints at symbolism, and there are some funny situations and witty lines. But with a high ratio of screaming to nuance, it's more soap opera than great theatre. That's even more disappointing in view of the fact that the play abounds in unrealized possibilities, like a hunk of marble on its way to becoming a statue, or a hunk that could have become a better statue than it did.