A Scent of Flowers

By James Saundersbackstage theatre company

Directed by Matthew Reeder

Produced by BackStage Theatre

At the Building Stage Theatre

Fluid, almost poetic language fuels seldom produced A Scent of Flowers

BackStage Theatre, a quiet yet creative group of thespians, have found some terrific plays in the past and they have scored a  gem of a play with prolific but little know British playwright James Saunders’ near-forgotten masterwork- A Scent of Flowers. This is a marvelous production of a masterwork heavily utilizing   Theatre of the Absurd  techniques that also influenced Beckett, Ionesco, Genet and Pinter.   But Saunders (1925-2004) moved absudist theatre from dealing with the futility of life to writing about the surreal beauty and wonderful sadness at the center of living.

james saunders

A Scent of Flowers, under the smart staging and direction of Matthew Reeder, introduces us to Zoe (the captivating Jess Berry) who awakes to a  strange collection of folks in her drawing room or is it a funeral parlor since a wooden casket is quickly wheeled in? Zoe begins a journey through the most moving parts of her short life.  Playwright Saunders weaves first person monologues directly to the audience with  witty and poetic language from the significant people in Zoe’s life that includes her step brother Godfrey (the intense Patrick De Nicola) – her soul mate; her uncle Edgar ( smart witty work by Michael Pacas) who tells Zoe fairy tales that  with erotic subtext. We meet her father, David (Ron Butts) a too proper English gentleman and Agnes (Mary Anne Bowman) a stoic, cold-heart step mother.  The wacky cast of characters also includes two funeral workers – Sid (Eric Paskey) and Fred (Jon Stutzman) wwho view death as a job.  Lastly, we meet Scrivens (the terrific Josh Hambrock) – the funeral director bent on giving Zoe a dignified funeral.

The brilliant staging of this 3 act, 2 hour 40 minute epic features a finely gloomy set (by Heath Hays) that moves from a funeral parlor to a church to a grave site. Lighting designer John Kelly set the proper gloomy tone throughout. The scope her is both epic and intimate.

backstage theatre company

The cast, sporting authentic English accents, featured extremely articulate use of Saunders’ language that quite effectively delivered the wit, satire, and truthfulness in respect to the playwrights script. Seldom to you see such outstanding ensemble work as rendered here. Josh Hambrock ‘s weird yet self-righteous funeral director was particularly interesting. Michael Pacas’ uncle, Ron Butts’ father,  and Mary Anne Bowwman step mother are the dysfunctional adults that surly didn’t shapes Zoe’s personality. By learning about  them, we see how little influence they had on the free-spirited and romantic Zoe. Her close association with Godfrey shows that he’d rather be an engineer that a lover with Zoe.

We eventually see Zoe self destruction from her involvement with a married man and he close confident with a local priest.  We empathize  and become saddened with Zoe’s plight but we enjoy meeting such an eclectic  cast of characters. The wonderful use of language and the unique take on life and death is a special theatrical experience that will enchant and engross you. Kudos to Matthew Reeder for discovering James Saunders and for mounting such a wonderful play.  BackStage Theatre needs to finally get much over due recognition for their outstanding work over the last few years. A Scent of Flowers is a gem in need of an audience. Don’t miss it!

Highly Recommended

Tom Williams

Talk Theatre in Chicago podcast

Date Reviewed: July 15, 2012

For more info checkout the A Scent of Flowers page at

At the Building Stage, 412 Carpenter St., Chicago, IL, tickets $25, $22 for seniors, Thursdays thru Saturdays at 7:30 pm, Sundays at 3 pm, running time is 2 hours, 40 minutes with 2 intermissions, through August 25, 2012

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