By Chuck Graham, TucsonStage.com
Darkly metaphorical, “The Language of Flowers” by Gavin Kayner plays out in elevated English, reminding us how reality is just another word for interpretation. Your reality will never be mine, and so forth.
The haunted, recluse lives of sisters Emma (Jasmine Roth) and Maria (Callie Hutchison) seem fantastical enough, until we remember the actual reality in the news awhile back of three women held prisoner as sex slaves in a Cleveland man's regular residential neighborhood.
Are pitiful Emma and Maria any less real here just because Act One, Scene One has them stuffing a heavy body bag into their old-time refrigerator? Or because we learn Maria, who is the oldest, keeps clinging to a life-size doll baby because she believes it is her actual baby? Or because Emma must never leave the apartment, lest anyone learn there is a body taking up all the space in their old 'fridge.
Maintaining these illusions does severely confine the sisters’ lives, but also helps retain whatever is left of their sanity.
Since Emma in her late teens-early 20s has virtually no social life, she writes letters to men in prison – well, one particular man, Walter (Ken Beider)...who is on Death Row.
All three actors set a high level of intensity right from the beginning. On the surface their personalities seem badly mangled, but this quicksand of murky personalities quickly sucks us down to unimagined layers beneath, as painful as they are twisted.
Once this dreamy, gauzy make-believe reality of Emma and Maria is established with poetic imagery contrasting the ugliness we don't see and the beauty of those flowers they long for, Walter comes bursting into their shadowy place, fresh from breaking out of prison.
Heading straight for Emma, his hardened criminal attitude is bolstered then shattered by the unexpected reception he receives from the sisters in this dark place that looks unchanged from the 1920s – almost 100 years ago.
Is there “good” violence as well as “bad” violence? Is one metaphor superior to another one? Can a seductive flower that is poisonous mean more than a rose that is only beautiful?
Richly layered life forces are merging here in a train wreck of twisted personalities. Yet, Kayner's writing feels more suited to the proprieties of 19th century Victorians. It is a devilish push-and-pull of one's proper emotions.
“The Language of Flowers” comes to us as an independent staging by Piquant Plays Productions, rather than an established local theater company. It's natural audience, however, is the same one as the Rogue Theater, where deeper and more complex emotions are preferred.
“The Language of Flowers” plays through June 14, with performances at 7:30 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays, 2 p.m. Sundays, in the upstairs Cabaret Space at the Temple of Music and Art, 330 S. Scott Ave. Tickets are $20 adults, $10 students, $15 in groups of four or more. Cash or check only, at the door. For details and reservations, 297-3317.