Don’t go near the stinky flowers! warns the cast of Stinky Flowers And The Bad Banana - but if you’re in the mood for a children’s show that sits comfortably with adults as well, you may want to ignore this advice and head straight for UNDER St. Marks where you’ll be offered up great bunches of stinky flowers, along with tales of bananas, Gunkerville, and birds; all told by army brats who are used to moving around but who now must also learn to move along, and ultimately move past.
Charmingly done by a cast of five adults who channel their inner child, Stinky Flowers was originally a one man show performed by writer Croft Vaugh. It has now been parsed out to a very talented ensemble under the direction of David A. Miller. Anchoring the story, acting as the heart, is sweet Sinclair (Michael J. Connolly), who spends time double protected – inside his attic and inside his head. In this attic he retells himself stories that his grandfather had told him before passing on, while furtively listening to a cassette of his mother singing. Sister Sam (Lauren Sowa) and brother Stu (Robert James Grimm III) – a little older, but not by much – soon come upon Sinclair and disrupt the quiet solitude with rambunctiousness and rough-housing. Soon enough two imaginary friends appear (Chuck Blasius and Dorothy Abrahams) – friends who seem suspiciously old to be imaginary friends, until it becomes clear that they’re pulling double duty as Grandpa and Mom when the storytelling calls for it.
Soon enough these five are weaving tales based on the ones their (much loved and much missed) grandfather told them, all the while trying to persuade the audience not to eat them. They use the bits and pieces they find around the attic as props and costumes, and they sing and dance in the cramped space with the enthusiasm of any group of kids wiling away the afternoon in the attic. Anyone who grew up pre-Wii et al will recognize themselves in these kids, and will reconnect fondly.
There are a few devices employed and broadly played – this is, after all, a children’s play. Repetition is key (although some jokes are repeated just enough times to have the funny squeezed right out of them), and wide-eyed innocence abounds. The “sweet” can range from bittersweet to toothache . . . and luckily moves quickly along the sweet-o-meter so wherever your comfort level resides you never have to squirm for too long. (I’m a bit of a dark horse, my husband is more of a wide-eye innocent, and so the range perfectly accommodated both of us). Some of the most resonant parts were the most subtle, the quietest, which contain the least slapstick. However, there was a little six year old girl who was convulsing in fits of laughter behind me during the actual stinky flowers story in Stinky Flowers, so Croft Vaugh definitely knows how to connect directly to the heart of a child, not to mention the funny bone.
Slowly, as the stories being told by the children lead to stories the children tell about themselves, the heart of the piece is uncovered and all the tales they’ve been telling – about acceptance, about loss, about . . . gunk – begin to make a lot more sense and take on the quality of metaphor rather than random tales children tell, or re-tell. By the end the silliness has boiled away leaving a lovely essence of Love in its wake. By the time the children realize we’re not there to eat them they’re out of stories anyway – and just in time too. Mom’s got cookies waiting.
~~~Stinky Flowers and the Bad Banana -
Under St. Marks Theatre 94 St. Marks Place Thursday and Friday at 8pm and Saturday at 3pm and 8pm Running until October 24th -
Tickets are $18 for adults / $10 for children available at smarttix.com or call 212.686.4444 For more information visit WTE at www.wtetheatre.org