Some people prefer Shakespeare, some musicals, some light comedy. Some, (that would be me) adore the counterclockwise world of Tom Stoppard and Harold Pinter, theater you have to work at. Imagine my surprise—and delight to discover that the A.R.T.’s multi-media BLUE FLOWER is right up my alley. You can immerse yourself in its wildly imaginative songs and images and still not absorb it all. (I’m hoping to go back to see what I missed the first time.)
This baby boomer grew up in an eccentric Esperanto speaking household with music for mother’s milk and war stories in lieu of fairy tales: In short, the quintessential audience for Ruth and Jim Bauer’s oddly magical cabaret cycle infused with Dada expression, war horrors and neo-Esperanto. The latter Bauer’s Kurt Weill-ish music, which he impishly calls “Sturm und Twang,” owes a bow to ‘60s musicals like HAIR (You can hear a snatch of Let the Sunshine In throughout the Paris Trio) as well as country western rhythms (in John Widgren’s heavenly pedal steel), overlaying the German oom pah pah. (You’ll find many a musical allusion niftily tucked into the songs.) Who would have imagined such a combination would sound so gorgeous?
The stylized acting dovetails perfectly with Ruth Bauer’s angular videography and the sharp edges of her narrative (which follows an artist and his friends back and forth through the madness of two world wars).All the characters bear a resemblance, or are reminiscent of historical figures from the Weimar years–and yet they’re only a shadow of reality.
Director Will Pomerantz creates searing images with gestural movement alone (credits, too, to Tom Nelis who also performs the (narrator) role of Fairytale Man), like the agonizing death of a horse in the Franz’s War number. Lucas Kavner gives a powerful performance as the tragic hero whose very soul is disfigured by war while Daniel Jenkins exudes a pitiable, quiet desperation as the artist who glues all their lives together in his collages. The women they love are beautifully portrayed by Teal Wicks and Meghan McGeary. Jenkins and McGeary’s Eyes and Bones song haunts me still and Wicks’ Eiffel Tower is a heartbreaking paean to loss.
I haven’t been so enamored of a work in a long time. You may not make out all the lyrics (I didn’t) but you know nevertheless what BLUE FLOWER is saying about the ravages of war.