Gather ye rosebuds…

Let a Hundred Flowers Bloom

By David Zellnik
Directed by Dave Mowers
The New Ensemble Theatre Company, Inc.
48 West 21st St., 4th fl. (929-2228)
Equity showcase (closes Mar. 10)
Review by Jillian Perlberger

What happens when a circle of gay friends and lovers emotionally prepare themselves for their own and each others' sickness and death, then suddenly find that modern medicine may be handing them a new lease on life? This question is explored with tremendous insight, poignancy and humor in David Zellnik's Let a Hundred Flowers Bloom, a play alternately (and sometimes simultaneously) wrenchingly funny and achingly sweet.

The central character and narrator, Puppy, is a writer of pornography whose life in a wheelchair has placed no shackles on his imagination. He is the emotional center of the play: a man who cares deeply for his friends, engineers their growth and reconciliations, and, unfortunately, receives the least of their sexual love, of which his cavalier writings belie his yearning.

As Puppy, Steven McElroy was magnetic, edgy and complex, all while remaining bitingly funny. As Jake, Puppy's best friend (and object of his secret crush) Grant James Varjas was brilliant in his role of a man who, as half of a gay couple, has prepared himself for death, only to have trouble adjusting to his new role as half of a couple now recovering from AIDS. Vargas's Jake reveled in the joy of the newly rediscovered sexual world before returning to his best friend and choosing loyalty to his boyfriend. Andy Paris, as Jake's partner Samson, was not as compelling here as he has been in previous efforts such as The Laramie Project and Gross Indecency, perhaps because his character was the least well drawn. The fourth of the quartet of players, Michael Irby, played several roles (including homophobic/closet case/Latino shoe salesman and the personification of a character out of Puppy's porn fantasies) and lit up the stage whenever he was on it.

Kudos to Murker 54 for an ingenious set design in which practically all props were conveniently and quite naturalistically produced from underneath the bed in the center of the stage. Lighting, by John Fineen and Guy Smith, and sound by Ian Murphy were all effective, as were costumes by Charles Schoonmaker.
Box Score:

Writing: 2

Directing: 2

Acting: 2

Set: 2

Costumes: 2

Lighting/Sound: 2

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Copyright 2001 Jillian Perlberger