“Flowers in the Attic” review
By Kaitlyn McQuin
See ‘Em On Stage: A Production Company’s “Flowers in the Attic” by V.C. Andrews, and adapted for the stage by Andrew Neiderman, tells the story of four children who are locked in an attic by their mother and grandmother in an attempt to be kept secret from their grandfather, who threatened to withhold his wealth post-death given his daughter be found with children. Sounds delightful, doesn’t it?
As someone who is unfamiliar with “Flowers in the Attic” (apparently it has a huge cult-following, similarly to Harry Potter or, for those with bad taste, Twilight), I had no idea what to expect walking into The Old Marquer Theatre on August 22nd. Are there literal flowers in a literal attic? Are the flowers a metaphor for something more substantial like life or really expensive Dolce and Gabbana perfume? Where do babies come from? Etc.
I was greeted with a set that resembled a literal attic. One question of mine was answered so far. The set displayed two beds, which were more like cots, cold and uninviting, side-by-side and a table downstage that could seat four. To the right of the beds was a window that looked halfway complete, as if the carpenter got spooked by an attic-ghost and peaced out halfway through the job. I didn’t mind it. It added to the untidiness of the room, which was an intentional choice. I almost felt like I was looking at the beginnings of a future episode of TLC’s Hoarders. Again, didn’t mind it.
The stage lights were dim, creating a dismal tone, which was effectively executed alongside the preshow music that incorporated The Cranberries and Selena, which I enjoyed, but didn’t quite understand. Either way, it made me think about Jennifer Lopez for a brief moment, and there are worse thoughts to have on a Saturday evening.
Because the Old Marquer is such a small space, audience members, as per usual, were practically sitting on top of the set, which not only creates a sense of intimacy, but also claustrophobia, both of which are suiting for a play that is set in an attic. The only issue I had with the seating was a few sightline interferences. I felt myself maneuvering my head around a lamp to get a view of the actors more times than I would’ve liked. The show was completely sold out, though, which is always a nice thing to see in the theatre community.
The play opens with Olivia Foxworth (played by Mary Pauley) frantically dressing the beds while Older Cathy (Jen Pagan) observes from above on a balcony in what seemed to be a slip. Pauley’s take on Olivia served its purpose as a Bible-thumping, uptight, and, at times, terrifying elder. There were moments where I found her distracting and a bit too much, but she wasn’t nearly as distracting as Pagan’s wig. I understand she’s playing an older version of Cathy (Kali Russell) who is as blonde as blonde can be, but if we’re going to use wigs, we need to utilize them in a way that doesn’t detract from the actor’s performance, which I didn’t care for in the least. Pagan seemed emotionally detached from the action happening onstage, which, to my knowledge, was all memory, so you’d think recalling events as traumatizing as being locked in an attic, being fed arsenic by your mother, and sleeping with your brother would stir some sort of emotion. There was a point towards the end of the play where Pagan’s face was drenched in tears. While I appreciate the craft of cultivating such emotion, I felt that choice, for her, was entirely unwarranted. At times, Pagan was ethereal and comical, both of which were lovely and I wish to have seen more of, but she mostly alternated between rigid and overly sensual.
Corrine Dollanganger (Rebecca Eizabeth Hollingsworth), mother of the Dollanganger children, was a peculiar choice in casting by director, Christopher Bentivegna. Hollingsworth executed each of her character’s personas, from the gentle mom in pearls all the way to the woman who has become consumed with greed and wealth, however, Hollingsworth is entirely too young to play Corrine. Because of the age gap between character and actor, the majority of her actions came across as ingenuine. While Rebecca can hold her own onstage (I especially loved her moments in the red ball gown), I do believe an older actor would’ve been a better choice for this particular role.
Cory (Edward Boudreaux IV) and Carrie (Daisey Mackey) were suitably cast as the Dollanganger twins. Though they didn’t have as much dialogue as the others in the cast, they created complete characters and were engaged in the action on the stage, which is pretty remarkable for such young actors. I actually had to refer back to my program to see if they were related, because they had such developed chemistry onstage.
Speaking of chemistry, can we talk about Cathy Dollanganger (Russell) and Christopher Dollanganger (Levi Hood) for a second? First of all, round of applause to Bentivenga for casting these two actors alongside one another and secondly, round of applause to both Kali and Levi for rendering me, at times, speechless and entirely captivated. Thirdly, round of applause to me for just the hell of it.
Kali’s portrayal of Cathy was beautifully heart wrenching, as I witnessed her go from a strong, humorous, almost lightweight young woman to a wilting flower, crippled by despair and plagued with bitterness and fear over the course of the play. My favorite moment of Kali’s was when she danced. It was angelic, and not to sound creepy, but I could’ve watched it for hours. The fact that Russell is a dancer made these moments even better.
Levi Hood pleasantly surprised me as Christopher. I found my attention to be focused on him most of all. He was beautifully cast as the older brother to the twins, offering a gentle kiss to the forehead to Carrie or a brotherly love tap to Cory and to Cathy as a comforter and voice of reason, even during times of heightened, forbidden love. Hood’s performance was playful and emotional, and I thoroughly look forward to seeing him continue to grow as an actor.
I do have a few quips, and one was with the time period, and by that I mean what time period was it? We had Corrine dressed like a 50’s housewife while Cathy is lounging on the bed-cot reading this month’s issue of Cosmo. While most people wouldn’t notice this, I spent a little too much time during the show wondering where we were in time and also what sex position Cathy was laughing about with Christopher. Secondly, the play could’ve been condensed. It was a bit long, and I found myself getting restless.
Overall, “Flowers in the Attic” was an enjoyable evening of theatre. It’s always a delight to see new work being produced and seeing such support within the theatre community.
“Flowers in the Attic” runs Thursday-Monday through August 31st at the Old Marquer Theatre. Tickets $20.
And, of course, as Olivia Foxworth would say, “God sees everything” (I’m talking to you, Cathy, with your raunchy magazines).