The Flower Thief

Pia Wilson's new play The Flower Thief merits your attention for a number of reasons.

First and foremost, there's the writing. Wilson has created a pair of enormously compelling characters in Clark and Angela, the married couple who are the main characters of this play. We observe them as 37-year-olds who have been together for a long time, and also as teenagers first feeling their way around one another. The young Clark is struggling to recover from the loss of his twin brother, Jimmy, who died in a swimming accident. The repercussions of that event on Clark's development and, eventually, on his relationship with Angela provide the key subject matter for the script. Wilson's writing is strong, loaded with powerful images and sometimes poetic phrasing. She's added a twist at the end of the play that I absolutely didn't see coming—in fact, it was such a surprise to me that it felt unearned and unsatisfying. But overall her accomplishment in crafting the play is commendable.

Second, there's the expert cast. Among the production's five actors—directed by Heidi Grumelot, who is also artistic director of Horse Trade Theater Group—there is not a weak link. Larry Powell and Erwin E.A. Thomas portray the younger and older versions of Clark, both capturing the inner conflict of this complicated man, whose potential and essential goodness are torn asunder by a variety of circumstances beyond his control (above all, his brother's untimely death—but there's more going on, as well). Similarly, Keona Welch and Lisa Strum, as the younger and older Angelas, show us a confused vulnerable girl and the controlled, emotionally hardened older woman she evolves into. Rounding out the ensemble, and bringing unexpected depth to a role that could simply be comic relief, is Allyson Morgan as Clark and Angela's neighbor, Shelby, a young rookie police officer.

The show features well-executed design (set by Janne Larsen, costumes by Cassandra Andrus, lighting by Justin W. King). It's presented by Horse Trade and The Fire This Time Festival, a group that, according to the program, "explores the possibilities in black theater." I was most impressed that The Flower Thief, with an African American playwright and four African Americans in the cast, transcends racial boundaries and definitions to tell a story filled with universal themes and characters. I will be eager to see what all of the artists involved with this work come up with next.