The Purple Rose of Colchis: Floral Arrangements Thesis Review

Published on: December 18, 2012

Ronald Gerber

Creating a work of art from scratch is never an easy thing to do. In my time at Simon’s Rock, I’ve seen it done by many seniors whose hearts and souls went into it. The blood, sweat, and tears do not always pay off, but in the case of Amanda Rowe-Van Allen ‘09’s Floral Arrangements, based on the Greek Medea legend, they definitely did. Rowe-Van Allen’s adaptation, which played from Thursday, Nov. 29 to Saturday, Dec. 1 in the Daniel Arts Center, was initially rehearsed without a script. Instead, the actors played theatre games and used Viewpoints techniques to forge the physicalities of their characters as well as to improvise blocking and creating a set. Because of the process, it effectively combined spontaneity and purposeful craft.

The two lead characters are modeled after their counterparts in the Medea legend: Joseph (Jake Ireland ‘11) after Jason, and Maxine (Audrey Fierberg ‘11) after Medea. Maxine is a florist who runs her business with a partner, Flora (Leyton Cassidy ‘12). After she marries Joseph and they have a baby together, she is still unable to give up her imaginary friend from childhood, Chalciope (Mia Formichella ‘12), who loves to tell stories. When Joseph starts cheating on Maxine with the exuberant Sarah (Jackie Harris ‘11), things turn ugly.

Much of the play’s strength came from the fact that it had the original story as a basis, so its narrative was clear from the start, and Rowe-Van Allen had many opportunities to explore whatever themes she wanted to add in for a modern adaptation. There were surprisingly few references to contemporary society; the only ones I can think of from memory are that a cell phone is used and Joseph is said to have fought in Afghanistan. The most evident thematic addition ended up being flowers, which obviously gave the piece its name. They act as a smooth thread through the whole story, their presence or absence always remaining noticeable, and the meaning of each kind of flower (printed in list form on the back of the playbill) eventually plays a role.

This is not to say that the play flows as well as it could. Floral Arrangements runs 45 minutes, and seems unnecessarily top-heavy; that is to say, its emotion and depth are pushed mostly to the last five minutes of the piece. The two deaths in the play are perpetrated by Maxine, and happen within a couple minutes of one another, right at the end. I saw no reason it could not have been spaced out more to give Maxine more time to finish her journey after the first murder and justify the second, which could really be shocking were it more unexpected.

Neither the acting nor the blocking was at fault, though. All the actors moved well and seemed comfortable onstage, their lines and actions effortless enough to make this reviewer forget that they are peers I see on a daily basis. Fierberg was particularly strong, with great stage presence and an expressive face that often said more than her lines did. Rowe-Van Allen also included several little staging touches that complemented and added even more dimension to the fine acting. A notable recurring visual theme is the color red, which is found not only in the flowers but also in Maxine’s costumes and in lighting several times throughout the play. The most amusing use was a poisoned cup of tea emanating red light when Sarah drinks from it, homage to Hitchcock’s Suspicion.

All in all, Floral Arrangements was a fine production on the part of everyone involved. Extending it is the best way to work out its few flaws, so I encourage Rowe-Van Allen to continue working with it and consider potentially staging it professionally as a full two-act play… retaining the original cast, of course.