Source Theatre Festival 2015: ‘Love & Botany: 10-Minute Plays’

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Michael Pollan’s The Botany of Desire (later turned into a PBS documentary of the same name) explored the world from the point of view of four plants: apple, tulip, marijuana, and potato. If you ever want to witness the lustiness of marijuana up-close and personal, watch this show: the female literally–but that’s a discussion for another article.

At the Source Theatre Festival the subject is Love and Botany. Desire has been placed on the backburner, on a slow simmer.

So what do you get when you mix love and botany?

You get The Tomato and the Onion (Simon Henriques), Manus Dei (Jeffrey Strausser), Dioecious (Kristen Davis-Coelho), Allergy (Erica Smith), Tree Danglings (Kristy Simmons, and A Bouquet a Day (Madeline Dennis-Yates)–six 10-minute plays that ripple across the dramaturgical spectrum like a meteor shower.

There’s a little something for everyone: a sprig of humor here; a twig of drama there; a limb of sci-fi; a stick of sentiment; a root of fantasy; and a whole wood of new plays germinating under theatre’s multicolored lights.

A BOUQUET A DAY By Madeline Dennis-Yates — with Lee Gerstenhaber and Tekle Ghebremeschelin in 'A Bouquet Day.' Photo by Daniel Corey.
Lee Gerstenhaber and Tekle Ghebremeschelin in ‘A Bouquet Day.’ Photo by Daniel Corey.

They saved the best for last. A Bouquet a Day tells the story of Laura (Lee Gerstenhaber), whose artist-parents made her at a young age the subject of a performance art piece. Without an admirer giving her flowers each day, she would die. Now, alone in her apartment, she awaits each day the flowers that will save her. Enter the burger delivery man (Tekle Ghebremeschel).  Lila Rachel Becker directs the two actors with skill as Gerstenhaber coyly coaxes the realist Ghebremeschel to buy her flowers.

Kendall Helblig (Marie) and Matt Sparacino (George). Photo by Daniel Corey.
Kendall Helblig (Marie) and Matt Sparacino (George). Photo by Daniel Corey.

The Tomato and the Onion will clearly make you consider metaphorical implications in a whole new light. Directed by Joan Cummins, Kendall Helblig as an emotional metaphorical Marie and Matt Sparacino as shy and literal-minded George engage in a tomato and onion romance: that’s right, together they taste great. The awkward staging, on a difficult to manage alley stage, somewhat undermined the intimacy of the acting.

Matthew Sparacino and Kendall Helblig in 'Tree Danglings.' Photo by Daniel Corey.
Matthew Sparacino and Kendall Helblig in ‘Tree Danglings.’ Photo by Daniel Corey.

Tree Danglings had a fabulous premise: a wife and husband collaborate on a theatre script to heal their damaged relationship. Helblig and Sparacino share many tender moments as they physicalize the strange tale of a sky-rooted tree pulled down to earth by a lumberjack. A little better framing of this tale by playwright Simmons would have added a great deal.

Len (Shawn Jain) and Elshe (Chantal Martineau). Photo by Daniel Corey.
Len (Shawn Jain) and Elshe (Chantal Martineau). Photo by Daniel Corey.

Allergy took us to a future earth, inhabited not by humans, though they look human enough, but by galaxy hopping nomads in quest of a new homeland. All that’s left of earth are the appliances: sewing machine, telephone, vegetable steamer. Everyone is happy with earth but Len, played stoically by Shawn Jain. Why? He’s allergic to his new home and must stay secluded or he will die. Fortunately, Elshe, played sympathetically by Chantal Martineau, is there to cheer him up, or at least try. Brandon Butts directs this understated love story.

The final two plays both have Latin names.

Caroline Lucas (She) and Erick Sotomayer (He). Photo by Daniel Corey.
Caroline Lucas (She) and Erick Sotomayer (He). Photo by Daniel Corey.

Dioecious takes us to a planet far away where, it seems, two human-like creatures are being creatively manipulated by three experimental scientists. The two human-like creatures cannot reproduce; the three scientists reproduce monoeciously. Yes, I looked up “dioecious” and it means having “distinct male and female individual organisms or colonies, meaning that a colony contains only either male or female individuals,” which for the play means–I think–that the couple has been brought together but cannot reproduce sexually whereas the scientists do not need sex as they can conjure right out of their head using various machines and goggles. But I’m not sure.

Lila Rachel Becker directed the show. Caroline Lucas plays She and Erick Sotomayer plays He. The scientists are played by Liz Dutton, Lee Gerstenhaber, and Tekle Ghebremeschel. The composer and cellist is Melanie Hsu, but she did not make an appearance.

in 'Manus Dei.' Photo by Daniel Corey.
Shawn Jain (Walt Becker) in Manus Dei.’ Photo by Daniel Corey.

Finally, we have Manus Dei or the Hand of God or (in the urban dictionary) the “Huge Nerd.” Alison Daniels plays Margaret Adams, a young woman who for six years has had two week-long torrid love trysts with Walt Becker, played by Shawn Jain. Their affair has been based on the migration of the Monarch Butterfly. Walt has a garden of Milkweed, a favorite of the Monarch. Now, however, his Milkweed is dying and so is the love affair. Unfortunately, Strausser’s play undermines the solid acting with a story that dies on the vine.

Nevertheless, Source’s Love and Botany offers its youthful audience a cornucopia of intellectual tidbits all related to the tenuous connection between plants and love.

Tenuous, however, only if we think that those flowers we give our beloveds once a year aren’t really necessary to the survival of the species.

Running Time: 80 minutes, with a 10-minute intermission.

11377246_839323629493505_8532147139825347226_nLove and Botany 10-minute plays plays through June 27, 2015. For exact dates and times check out the calendar. For the complete coverage go to the Source Theatre Festival. The Source Festival performs at Source -1835 14th Street, NW, in Washington, DC. For tickets, call (866) 811-4111, or purchase them online.

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Robert Michael Oliver
Poet, Performer, Theatre Artist, Playwright, Educator, Writer--Robert Michael Oliver, Ph.D., has been involved in the DC arts scene since the 1980s, when he co-founded The Sanctuary Theatre in the old sanctuary of Calvary United Methodist Church. Since those fierce days in Columbia Heights, he has earned his doctorate in theatre from University of Maryland, raised two wonderful children, and seen more theatre as a reviewer over the last two years than he saw in the previous thirty. He now co-directs, along with his wife Elizabeth Bruce, the Sanctuary's Performing Knowledge Project, which organizes a host of writing and performance workshops, plus Mementos: Poetry and Performance for Seniors, a yearly literature-in-performance Fringe Festival show, as well as Performetry--a monthly poetry and prose performance event at DC's community arts & culture center BloomBars.