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Night Blooms

a World Premiere
CATEGORY :
by Margaret Baldwin

COMPANY : Horizon Theatre Company [WEBSITE]
VENUE : Horizon Theatre Company [WEBSITE]
ID# 3851

SHOWING : September 24, 2010 - October 24, 2010

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PRODUCTION DESCRIPTION

Two families -- one white and one black -- cope with the change in Selma in 1965.


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REVIEWS

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Family History
by Dedalus
Thursday, October 14, 2010
4.5
How public events reflect and affect private lives has always been a favorite topic for “historical” writers. It’s usually more effective to place the “big events” off-stage (or off-page or off-screen) and concentrate on what a set of characters are considering and experiencing and doing.

Consider Margaret Baldwin’s “Night Blooms,” currently filling houses at Horizon Theatre. Set in Selma AL in the pivotal spring of 1965, it is aware of what’s going on down the road with Dr. King’s Freedom March to Montgomery. Yet it chooses instead to focus on the gathering of the Staffords, and the mending of the rifts that threaten the family and its younger generations. In so doing, it vividly shows the effect the “big event” is having, perhaps even more so than if it had given us a story set in the actual march.

Matriarch Lucille Stafford is in a tizzy because her beloved cereus is about to bloom. Because this is a once-a-year, middle-of-the-night event, there must be a “Blooming Party,” a gathering of family and friends to sit about in genteel appreciation of nature and its eccentricities. Accordingly, family maid Geneva is asked to stay and work, despite the fact that her son is with Dr. King, and has already experienced some Jim Crow “hospitality” (perhaps “hostile-tality” would be a better word). There is also Geneva’s daughter Raynelle and Lucille’s granddaughter Lucy, who insist on playing together like kids insist on doing, in spite of the grown-ups’ “rules” about “us and them.” There is also husband “Granddaddy Stafford,” a classic bigot because that’s all he knows, daughter Ruth Stafford Hill who has the veneer of progressivism (her husband his integrated his Pediatrics practice), and son Clayton, the prodigal son who has returned to join Dr. King’s march, but has a few embedded issues of his own to deal with.

Throughout the course of the evening, we’re treated to a traditional family drama of old wounds, new scars, sudden explosions of long-repressed angers, calm eddies of warm remembrances of familial joking, and, most important, new challenges to old paradigms and shifts in ways of thinking. I especially liked how the expected targets of contemporary disdain – the entrenched Granddaddy and hypocritical Ruth – are given no more examination than the holier-than-thou arrogance of son Clayton or the oblivious-to-it-all Lucille. And I liked how the playwright has chosen to show those attitudes and behaviors that will change without showing any melodramatic “I see the light” contrivances. We know how the events of the march will change these people without actually watching it unfold before us.

To be sure, students of history may chafe that the play is more about the blooming cereus than about the Freedom March. But, I believe this is how it should be. Those of my generation are always asked “What were you doing when Kennedy was killed?” or “Who were you with when your Viet Nam lottery number was announced?” or “Where were you when Saigon fell?” (Younger generations will no doubt ask the same questions about 9/11 or other recent events.) We KNOW about the “big events.” We DON’T KNOW about you and how they affected you. When we’re dealing with theatre and other dramatic narratives, the same holds true – we know about the event, tell us about what the characters and what they are doing.

And, apparently, the Staffords (and their maid) are sitting on a chilly porch waiting for an ugly plant to bloom, and taking the first steps towards some sort of reconciliation.

This works not only for the symbolism of the rare bloom itself, but for the “back story” importance that the bloom has for the family dynamic, for what it represents to Lucille and the connection to her own parents, for what it represents to young Lucy and the future of the family. It’s a multi-layered symbol that resonates on several emotional levels without being (too) clumsy or forced.

This is also a beautifully directed (by Karen Robinson), well-acted production. Jill Jane Clements brings her usual flair for “southern womanhood” to Lucille, making her affectionate, irritating, and compulsive all at the same time. It is a subtle, well-imagined portrayal that I found enjoyable to watch, fascinating to contemplate. Lala Cochran is all bristly as Ruth, Tom Thon brings a subtle vulnerableness to the loud and boorish Granddaddy, Marguerite Hannah brings a quiet commitment to the devoted Geneva, Harrison Long is all righteous indignation as the prodigal Clayton, and the younger set are nicely portrayed by (over-aged) actresses Bethany Anne Lind and Brittney London. They are given a multi-leveled set by Jeffrey Weber, which, along with Mary Parker’s lighting, nicely breaks into several indoor and outdoor playing areas that are often used simultaneously.

“Night Blooms” joins a long list of plays that tell of historical events obliquely, that illuminate the events by showing how they impact (or, in this case, presumably WILL impact) a set of well-defined and compelling characters. It is one of those plays that presumes some historical knowledge and shows attitudes and relationships at an historical dead-end. That it does so without seeming “culturally smug,” without being too judgmental, is a credit to the playwright and to the production.

Unlike the cereus, this is a show that will bloom any time anyone sits and watches.

-- Brad Rudy (BKRudy@aol.com)


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