The Flowers of Fantastico
nytheatre.com review by Robert Weinstein
August 14, 2011
The Flowers of Fantastico: A horror comedy about breakups and b movies begins with a young woman named Tara on her couch, talking on the phone and watching a pornographic film called “The Flowers of Fantastico,” after a breakup at the tactless hands of a guy named Reese. The split drives Tara into a verbal spiral that is helped only by 1) the eventual appearance of her best friend, Gary; and 2) the mystery surrounding the origins and leading lady’s identity of the aforementioned porn.
This particular copy of the pornographic film, wonderfully titled, “The Flowers of Fantastico,” was found behind a vending machine and after a good scouring of the internet—we’ve all reached such depths in moments of despair, yes?—there’s no record it ever having been made. This film’s leading lady resembles someone Tara believes to be a (commercial) movie star named Bette Jensen. Obsessed by this knowledge, betrayed by this unthinkable cover-up, and armed with the knowledge that Bette Jensen performing nearby, she decides to find and bribe the actress. She does, and mayhem ensues.
Meanwhile, across the city—New York, I think: it’s never mentioned—a foul-mouthed nun named Sister Contentious bemoans the world’s foul nature while fumbling through a bag of instruments with which she’s going to torture someone she’s kidnapped. But before inflicting the real pain, she unleashes the demon inside her victim, who reveals an impending convergence that will doom mankind. I missed the whys and the wherefores but while killing the demon, Sister Contentious states that the film star Bette Jensen is integral to this convergence and announces her intentions to find out why and to stop it.
There’s not a lot of horror in The Flowers of Fantastico but there’s plenty of comedy and talk about breakups. One of my favorite moments in the play involves Sister Contentious—played with playful aggressiveness by Regina Gibson—slicing the hand off another demon and slapping him several times across the face with it. The plot involving Tara’s adventures with Bette Jensen runs parallel to Sister Contentious’s quest and both come to a head in a ritual involving a strange amulet, a geisha-looking priestess and a ferocious looking wedding cake.
Rachel Kerry’s script is difficult to define. It touches on satire, the occult, the occasional horror trope and comedies, romantic, dark and slapstick. It’s an ambitious mess of ideas banging heads in a world that needs filling. The characters’ motives, for example, aren’t always clear or believable. In a moment staged with genuine empathy, Gary describes Reese as the first guy Tara dated that was actually nice. When we meet Reese though, he’s incredibly unkind and kind of a numbskull. Was he really nice? Was Tara dramatizing and exaggerating their relationship? The idea is never quite clear.
The same goes for the plotline involving Sister Contentious. Kerry gives her wonderful personality traits—she dresses like a Christian dominatrix; she chases actual demons because the ones in her dreams are worse—but I never saw why saving the world actually mattered to her. Kerry could be more demanding with the world and its characters.
The person I saw the play with responded most to the scenes involving relationships, and Flowers is particularly astute when it comes to the ways in how the young and rejected make sense of their experiences and comfort one another. There are several scenes in which Tara, Gary and his boyfriend Billi whip barbs that sting and raise varying degrees of defense mechanisms, but Kerry deftly puts these in the service of forwarding the story rather than showing what a good writer she is. It’s a good sign, a promising one for an emerging playwright.