By Byrne Harrison
The mark of good children's theatre is its ability to entertain (and hopefully engross) the kids, while still being palatable to the adults. Playwright Croft Vaughn's Stinky Flowers and the Bad Banana, adapted from his one-man show, succeeds admirably. It is a charming, and somewhat bittersweet play about life and growing up, that will entertain children and adults and do it well.
Sinclair (Michael J. Connolly) is a dreamer with a wildly active imagination. The attic is his playroom, full of magical delights, including his imaginary friend, Russell (Chuck Blasius), and Russell's imaginary friend, Elizabeth (Dorothy Abrahams). When Sinclair's rambunctious siblings, Stu (Robert James Grimm III) and Sam (Lauren Sowa), intrude, Sinclair is shocked to find out that they can see Russell and Elizabeth. Even more alarming, the attic now contains an audience full of people. Fearing that the audience might be made up of cannibals, Sinclair and crew begin telling stories. And that's when the play really gets good.
Vaughn's stories are terrific, and bring to mind Aesop's fables or the Brothers Grimm. Full of stinky flowers, hidden truths, warring tribes of monkeys, and gunk-destroying fudge, his tales are delightful, energetic, and have some nice life lessons.
One story, however, stands out. This is the story about two birds and it directly relates to the loss of the children's grandfather. It creates a sublime moment in the play, especially through its use of drawings, and while a little too quiet for the youngest children, it is very touching.
Connolly, Sowa and Grimm are excellent as the siblings. Grimm in particular is outstanding as the rough and tumble Stu. He captures the manic energy of a particularly physical child. Connolly excels in the quiet moments, especially when dealing with the loss of Sinclair's grandfather. Sowa is just a delight, but never more than when Sam is exasperated or annoyed. Blasius and Abrahams are terrific as Russell and Elizabeth, at times acting as silly as the kids, at others acting like adults (or more often as adults seen through the eyes of kids).
Director David A. Miller does an outstanding job with the play, keeping the pacing tight (very important in children's theatre), but allowing the nuances of the script to shine through. Production elements are strong, with particular praise going to Scenic Designer Jennifer Varbalow. She skillfully transforms the small stage at Under St. Mark's into a jammed-to-the-rafters attic, full of items to fuel a child's imagination.
My only issue about Stinky Flowers and the Bad Banana is the timing of the shows. 8 PM is not an easy time to get children to the theatre. I wish I could have attended one of the Sunday matinee performances to see if there were more children, and as a result, if the interactive portions of the play worked better.
With luck, Vaughn's play will be brought back for a longer, and hopefully earlier run.
Stinky Flowers and the Bad Banana
By Croft Vaughn
Directed by David A. Miller
Stage Management: Barbara T. Dente
Assistant Director: Lauren Heirigs
Scenic Design: Jennifer Varbalow
Costume Design: Bradley Erickson
Lighting Design: Kate Ashton with Sam Gordon
Music: Alana McNair
Animation: Matt Burnett with Double Blind
Video Design: Jeff Heyman
Press Representation: Emily Owens PR
Featuring: Michael J. Connolly (Sinclair), Lauren Sowa (Sam), Robert James Grimm III (Stu), Chuck Blasius (Russell), Dorothy Abrahams (Elizabeth)
Under St. Marks
94 St. Marks Place
Closed October 24th