Marriage is “till death do us part”—except when it isn’t—or so Max and Stephanie and Sandy and Maddie discover in Maura Campbell’s provocative Flower Duet, now getting its West Coast Premiere at North Hollywood’s Road Theatre following a 2010 World Premiere in Burlington, Vermont.
Campbell introduces us to couple number one (Adam Mondschein as Max and Avery Clyde as Stephanie) mid-tiff, an argument ostensibly about pepper (more specifically about whether a husband and wife should or shouldn’t know if the other likes or dislikes it in his or her food), though as Oprah would say, “When you’re fighting about the pepper, it’s not the pepper you’re fighting about.”
As the couple begin digging deeper into the root of their latest spat, we learn that Sandy (Patrick Joseph Rieger) has recently surprised Max’s wife with a kiss, though no further hanky-panky proved possible due to the sudden return home of Maddie (Jessica Noboa).
Expecting Max to be not all that upset by her revelation (after all, they did once have a foursome with another couple), Stephanie is surprised when hubby doesn’t take all that well to her confession. (The aforementioned foursome did, after all, involve both of them and not Stephanie on her own.)
Unlike the childless Max and Stephanie, Sandy and Maddie have a daughter (adult actress Kara Hume as four-year-old Daisy), and though it soon becomes clear that the preschooler is a bit of a problem child, neither parents nor we can exactly put a finger on what’s not quite right with Daisy.
Flower Duet’s first act unfolds over the course of a week, alternating between each couple’s home, as we get to know Max and Stephanie and Sandy and Maddie a bit better. (Sandy has at the very least a “roving eye,” Maddie can’t seem to stop refilling her wine glass, Max remains not all that pleased about Stephanie’s insistence that they move to Vermont, and Stephanie might have an itch to carry things with Sandy a bit further than that kiss.)
Still, despite Vermont playwright Campbell’s snappy, fresh dialog, not all that much “happens” in Act One, certainly nothing we haven’t seen in relationship play after play and TV soap after soap.
What makes Flower Duet worth seeing, in addition to its all-around terrific cast, is its time-traveling second act, for in a series of three scenes, Campbell transports us first to “two years in the future” to show us the result of Act One’s marital discord, then “many years in the past” to reveal each couple’s hope-filled origins, and finally, in a brief coda, to “many years in the future” to fill us in on how it all turns out.
Director Jeffrey Wienckowski scores high marks for his role in his four leads’ excellent performances. (Hume has virtually no spoken dialog that I can recall). On the other hand, Wienckowski’s peripheral decisions prove either unnecessary (Daisy’s Martha Graham-like dance moves on a second-floor scaffold) or just plain silly (flowers sewn to everyone’s outfits but Sandy’s, which I guess is supposed to “mean” something, but what that might be only Wienckowski can say).
One particularly striking, beautifully directed, powerfully performed, and exquisitely lit scene does deserve mention, the one that ends Act One with Sandy and Maddie arguing downstairs as Max and Stephanie make passionate love up above. It’s a stunner.
Christopher Scott Murillo’s gorgeous set has rainbow-hued flowers growing everywhere, inside and out, another of Wienckowski’s “director’s concepts,” but one that proves less irritating scenically because the result is so darned beautiful. Costume designer Halei Parker’s contemporary garb would score high marks were it not for those superfluous posies. Lighting designer Boris Gortinski lights the stage quite stunningly, with David B. Marling’s operatic sound design a particularly apt choice given the play’s Madame Butterfly-inspired title. Yani Marin choreograph’s Hume’s graceful moves.
Flower Duet is produced by assistant director Zeljka Cvjetan Gortinski. Ellie Jameson is associate producer. Taylor Gilbert and Sam Anderson are executive producers. Maurie Gonzales is stage manager.
Roles are understudied by Brian Johnson (Max), Paris Perrault (Maddie), Coronado Romero (Sandy), and Hilary Schwartz (Daisy & Sandy).
With the exception of plays getting their World Premiere in major regional houses, most new works find it hard to get that important second production. The Road Theatre Company deserves major props for having discovered Flower Duet in Campbell’s faraway Burlington home-base and bringing it to L.A. for its West Coast Premiere.
Though not as memorable as the Road’s best (Keith Huff’s Pursued By Happiness, which also starred Clyde, comes immediately to mind), Flower Duet is still fine work from one of L.A.’s finest theater companies, and that alone makes it worth checking out.
The Road Theatre, NoHo Senior Arts Colony, 10747 Magnolia Blvd., North Hollywood.
June 21, 2014
Photos: John Lorenz