The Sound of a Yellow Flower
By: Dustin Spence
Directed by: Letitia Guillaud
At Trap Door Theatre
World Premiere Shows Promise but Lacks Clarity.
World premieres can be tricky creatures, especially if it is a playwright’s first attempt at a full-length script. With the proper guidance, collaboration, and workshop these can be highly rewarding experiences. Strange Loop Theatre has taken this artistic leap with their production of The Sound of a Yellow Flower by first time playwright Dustin Spence and the results are mixed.
The play is set in Belarus during an unspecified time period. A concert violinist named Sasha (Rich Logan) has just returned to Minsk with his wife Zoe (Samantha Garcia), a coffee shop employee with a revolutionary background. Sasha catches up with his old friend Nikolai (Mark Pracht), who has climbed the ranks of the army in Belarus. Nikolai is also intertwined in a relationship with a fiery prostitute and former heroin addict named Natalia (Meghan M. Martinez), whom he domineers over and demands love and respect. The basic plot lines of the story are intact, but as the relationships deepen and secrets are revealed things start to get blurry and unmotivated.
Without giving too much away, I would have liked a little more background on the history of Belarus. It is assumed that the audience is familiar with the political upheaval and governmental instability of the country. If nothing else, it made me want to learn more about Belarus. Also it was never clear to me why Zoe and Sasha move back to Minsk given Sasha’s past and the danger they both face. There is some clarity as to why Zoe is there, but her reason is very ambiguous. Upon reading an interview with the playwright, Dustin Spence, in the program I saw that this play began as an exercise where all of the scenes would only have two characters with all characters only seeing each other once. Furthermore, these scenes are all “last moments.” While Mr. Spence has written some strong dialogue, especially the first scene with Nikolai and Natalia, and the skeleton plotlines are there, the lack of motivation and some peculiar plot twists make this a difficult show to understand. Each scene has an emotional arc, but the script as a whole does not.
The ensemble does some strong work with their roles. Meghan M. Martinez is a heartbreaking Natalia, also incorporating some nice physical work. Mark Pracht is a menacing force as Nikolai, a power hungry drunk who wants nothing more than to be loved. Samantha Garcia is a playful Zoe, doing especially well in her final scene with Nikolai. Rich Logan is an emotionally conflicted Sasha. However, I feel as though the work of the actors was inhibited by their accents. This is not to knock on the work of the dialect coach Kate Jordan, but at heightened emotional moments the actors would slip in and out of their accents. I was particularly confused why Zoe, who is American, spoke with a Belarusian accent. I realized about halfway through the play that when she was speaking with a Belarusian accent she was speaking Belarusian and when not, English. However, I think there was only one moment in the play where Zoe spoke nothing but English. This made it especially hard to follow Zoe’s story until the end of the show.
I am a fan of the Trap Door space and am glad to see the way Strange Loop has utilized it. Director Letitia Guillaud has found the arc to each of the individual scenes, keeping the transitions brief and the focus of the show on the actors. I would like her and Spence to continue their collaboration on this project because if some of the muddy spots are cleared up they may be on to something. The simple set design of Glen Anderson is absolutely wonderful, using cabinet spaces in the walls that alter each location just enough by incorporating a window or additional light.
Although I do not feel this script was ready for a full production, I truly believe this is a show with promise; the characters are interesting, the location is unique, some scenes are emotionally searing, and the dialogue has moments of brilliance. The lack of motivation the characters have for their actions and the ambiguity of certain plot points is where this script needs improvement. If Strange Loop continues to workshop this piece and hash out the narrative flaws it may turn into a truly wonderful play. I look forward to seeing how they continue to work on this piece and how Mr. Spence continues to grow as a writer. Something tells me the journey is not yet over for The Sound of a Yellow Flower.
Date of Review: 9/12/10
For full show information, check out The Sound of a Yellow Flower page at TheatreInChicago.
At Trap Door Theatre. 1655 W. Cortland St., Chicago, IL. Tickets $15 ($10 for Students and Seniors).