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Stinky Flowers, Sweet Thoughts

by Karen Tortora-Lee on September 28, 2010

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Stinky Flowers

There’s something truly wonderful about smartly written children’s stories.  When you look at the enduring ones they’re not still around because they’re cute or funny or have clever titles . . . they’re still around because they teach an amazing lesson in a subtle and gentle way.  So, while Stinky Flowers and the Bad Banana has a title I could say over and over again and still laugh – I don’t think it’s gotten as far as it has on funny alone.  In fact, after hearing what creator Croft Vaugh had to say about his play, I think the reason this show has come this far is because its creator is as extraordinary as its topic.

Beginning as solo play performed by Croft Vaughn himself, Stinky Flowers and the Bad Banana was first presented as part of Six Figures Theatre Company’s Artists of Tomorrow Festival at the Westside Theatre in December 2006. From there it went to both the Edinburgh Fringe Festival (2007) and the Indianapolis Fringe Festival (2008). The new 5-person version of the play was presented in 2008 as part of The Management’s Salon Reading Series.  Now, audiences will be able to see the first fully staged production of the ensemble version of Stinky Flowers and the Bad Banana at UNDER St. Marks.

Today Croft Vaugh tells me about the challenges of turning a solo-show into an ensemble piece, he explains how Fairy Tales are filled with parental imagery, and he gives some advice on how to transform yourself into a monkey . . .

Stinky Flowers and the Bad Banana has got to be the cutest title I’ve ever run across. Tell me about what it means.

Playwright Croft Vaughn

Playwright Croft Vaughn

CV: Well thank you for the compliment! The show is a fairytale frame play, and the title references two of the tales. I was visiting the Brooklyn Botanical Garden with a friend, and I had some bad news for him. I was trying to think of a way to bring up the subject without saying, “Listen, I’ve got bad news”, so I told him that I had a stinky flower for him. I liked the oddness of the metaphor, so I turned it into a fairytale about telling the truth when you have bad news. Stinky Flowers is the story that launched this show back in 2006. The Bad Banana tale is top secret, but I should warn you; the audience will be full of monkeys.

Stinky Flowers and the Bad Banana started off  as a solo show, and has now evolved into a 5 person ensemble piece. What prompted that?

My friend Kelly Miller is a literary manager and dramaturg. She saw my performance at the East to Edinburgh Festival at 59E59 Theaters. After the show, she grabbed my arm, looked me in the eye and said, “Croft, this show is beautiful. You need to write it for 5 actors for regional theaters, and for 45 actors, for high-schools.” I ran with her advice, and drummed up versions for Broadway, Cruises, and ultimately, the Pixar feature animation film, followed by a successful cartoon spin-off and tons of merchandise. If anyone knows how I can make that happen, please call me. Immediately.

What’s been the most challenging aspect of translating a solo show into an ensemble piece?

I think formatting is really hard, does that count? The play is steeped in storytelling, so, the bones of the play didn’t need to change much. It’s fun to write new characters, and discover what kind of trouble they can get into. I think the most challenging part was just allowing the play to take over with the new characters. Letting them speak, and drive the show with their fears and curiosity. Letting the new play organically develop.

Your tag-line “They . . . discover the answer to, ‘Are we still loved after the person who loves us is gone?‘” is so poignant and moving that it could almost be a line of poetry. That’s no ordinary theme. Where does it come from?

Thank you! I wish certain MFA admissions departments had your keen intuition. But I’ll fess up – I didn’t realize that’s what the play was about till about 3 years after I began working on it. I wrote a lullaby in the play that the kids discover on a cassette tape. It’s their mother singing, “Everything You Want to Know.” I was working with some musicians, trying to express to them what I needed from the song, and I had a moment of sublime clarity. That’s the question these kids face in the show. It’s something you can’t answer, so you have to take it on faith. For me, it touches a very deep and personal fear; one that I take on faith is universal. While that may be the heart of the show, the meat of the play is smart and entertaining tales told by 3 military brats who are convinced the audience is going to eat them. I’m going to be in the audience every night, so that could very well happen.

What’s your favorite moment in the play?

This is where my brilliant (to the nth degree) director comes in. It’s a good thing David A. Miller is such a great person, because with smarts like his in the wrong hands, you’d have a Robert Moses of Theatre. He’s the rare breed of artist who knows how to foster an environment where magic can happen. I just sat in on a run-through of the play, and the amount of creativity on display speaks to the freedom these actors have. Dorothy Abrahams only had a scarf with which to turn herself into a monkey, so she ties it around her head like Axel Rose. Welcome to the jungle, indeed! There was also an inspired moment with an earmuff by Lauren Sowa. Robert James Grimm’s Evil King puts my Evil King to shame, and that’s no small feat.

What part of the show have you found resonates most with the audience?

Monkeys. I think everyone resonates really well with monkeys. The finale is quite marvelous too. Maybe it’s the story about the 2 birds told in silence because it activates the sniffles pretty quickly… There’s something special in the relationship Sinclair has with his Grandfather. Fairytales are flush with characters who are not your parents, and at the same time, are your parents. For me, that’s like a grandparent. Sinclair develops an imaginary friend who takes on the role of his Grandpa to help tell the stories. Eventually he drops the charade and faces the truth. Fairytales carry the courage of their convictions. This is how the kids find the courage to create their own story, the ending of which weaves a fantastic finale for all the other tales. I’d say the audience relates to the journey of the show more than any single part.

And finally – what’s your favorite Stinky Flower?

Stinky Flowers!

Stinky Flowers!

Playing favorites with flora will only get you into trouble. On that note!  There are 2 genuinely stinky flowers, and I prefer Rafflesia Arnoldii. Take that Amorphophalis Titanum! Don’t worry – A.T. won’t flower again for like, 70 years. Rafflesia has no stem, no roots, no leaves. It’s just a fat, ugly flower, with a big hollow head. It sits parasitically on a vine, looks like something from The Dark Crystal, and smells like rotting meat. It is the king of stinky flowers in my opinion. Although, there are some members of Congress that give Rafflesia a run for it’s money…


Be sure to catch Stinky Flowers and the Bad Banana – and check back here to read my review of the show.  I can’t wait to see what Croft Vaughn and his talent ensemble has in store.


Stinky Flowers And The Bad Banana
Thursday, October 07, 2010 through Sunday, October 24, 2010
An Original, Multi-Media Fairytale Show
Length: 1 hr 20 mins
Under St. Marks
94 St. Marks Place
New York, NY 10003
(1st Ave & Ave A)
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