Stinky Flowers and the Bad Banana
nytheatre.com review by Wendy Remington Bowie
October 8, 2010
In Croft Vaughn's Stinky Flowers and the Bad Banana, three kids, Sinclair, Sam, and Stu, along with their imaginary friends and the imaginary friend of their imaginary friend, find an audience in their attic, much to their surprise. They decide to tell us a series of the children's Grandpa's fairy tales and through them reveal a complex and delicate relationship with their mother, while discovering the tools within themselves to begin to mend it.
The fairy tales are told in a delightfully theatrical style. The conventions they use transform the small intimate space into the vast variety of large and fully detailed worlds of the stories. As the actors discover the audience and explore the abandoned fourth wall, the opportunity for audience involvement and participation emerges, which all the children (and heck, the grownups too) found entrancing and exciting. There is a beautiful, homey, handmade aesthetic about the piece. Sinclair, Sam, and Stu make their stories from the detritus of an attic—packed away scarves, old hockey sticks, an overhead projector (that was used with superb creativity and to great effect). The design is realistic but simple and allows us to actively imagine the stories as they are told.
I was mightily impressed with how the company held my three-year-old's attention with the stories. However, I would definitely recommend the piece for older children. The six- and seven-year-olds in the audience seemed to do just fine throughout, but my littler one lost it for a bit as the piece became pensive and quiet toward the end. But the first words out of her mouth as we left the theatre were "When can we go to the play again?" Also, the eight o'clock curtain time meant that on the trip home I had a very grumpy girl on my hands which probably wouldn't be as true for older kids. Though the story of the children is a melancholy one, the balance with the charming fairy tales makes for a very optimistic piece. The writing does not bend down to kids but meets them on their level. And indeed the majority of the audience when we saw the show were adults, who enjoyed themselves just as much as the kids.
Though there is not a single child in the piece, an impression of childhood is captured precisely without being childish: the magpie collecting of treasures discarded by grownups, how intimidating the world can be to an imaginative and thoughtful child trying to navigate the complexities of a grownup world, and the safety and security of the pure love of family to help little ones through. The imaginative fables have a great message and this play was a lovely way to spend an evening with my daughter.