By Suzanne Bradbeer
Directed by Linda Ames Key
Vital Children's Theatre
McGinn Cazale Theater
Equity showcase (closed)
Review by Deborah S. Greenhut
“Everyone is looking for an answer,” muses teen-aged Phoebe late in Suzanne Bradbeer’s excellent, open-ended question of a play, Full Bloom. While the playwright channels numerous authors, beginning with Sophocles, to position the Harris family as the contemporary descendent of J.D. Salinger’s Caulfields, the strength of this play was found in its focus on a real teenager, Phoebe, and her struggle to come to terms with her own developing body. Like Holden Caulfield, Phoebe is ignored by occasionally phony, and often distracted, adults. As the play opens, her father has found a younger woman after 20 years of marriage. Her mother, Jane Harris, played to a frazzled, but recovering “T,” by Jennifer Dorr White, and the neighbors, firefighter Jim (Jason Furlani), and his wife, the actress, Crystal (LeeAnne Hutchinson), were wrestling with their own versions of the same questions about desirability.
As Phoebe, Jennifer Blood offered a deft and often poignant performance. Kudos to director Linda Ames Key, who prevented Full Bloom from becoming what the older women fear most: “maudlin.” Without sugar coating, and also without sensationalizing, this play notches references to numerous issues: divorce, plastic surgery, fear of aging, self-mutilation, and sex, to name a few. Through these many experiences, Blood’s expressive face lent tremendous credibility to Phoebe’s evolving reflections on growing up.
Bradbeer’s script does not mean to offer the answers, but it persistently poses the questions in a way that was useful for audience members who might be seeking a trigger for “the talk.” The adult women are seeking the impossible -- “A Greek tragedy that ends well for the mother and children” -- yet the play keeps its perspective lighter by handing them the amusement of a horror movie instead. All the archetypes of the teenage landscape are present, whether by implication, as in the absent father, or in characterization, as in the perfectly smart and dorky Jesse, excellently portrayed by William Jackson Harper.
The set (Michael Moore) and lighting designs (Rie Ono) made interesting use of color and symbol to suggest a volatile emotional world -- a ladder that stopped in mid-air, for example. This flexibility permitted the cast to pencil in the sinister aspects of adolescence as quickly as they could be erased by a humorous change of light. Costumes were designed by Colleen Kesterson.
By preventing the play from giving the answers, Bradbeer makes the task of an ending more difficult, but perhaps the longed-for happy one came to those in the audience who likely found a reason to consider the question with their daughters.
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Copyright 2006 Deborah S. Greenhut