Flowers in the Desert

Back to square one?

d'Lëtzebuerger Land vom 09.10.2015

Actors Repertory Theatre Luxembourg is a professional company that was founded a few years ago and has become a more than welcome addition to the local drama scene. Now they have picked Flowers in the desert by Donna Hoke, a contemporary Buffalo-based playwright, for their second café theatre production. Rather a nice formula: You walk into Am Garage Café down route d’Esch, where you will find five rows of assorted chairs in front of a stage framed by shelves of wines on one side and room sprays on the other. Drinks are served before the show, so theatre-going becomes the perfect way to unwind after a day at work. A glass of red wine might even help you cure the cold you have been suffering from all week! And then, after watching the play, you can join the cast and crew for dinner at one of the tables set in the restaurant area behind the auditorium.

Timothy Lone directs, while Christine Probst and Erik Abbott star as Britt and Joe, a couple who split after fourteen years of marriage. Britt seems to have moved on since she started dating a professor. Yet, now, two years into the separation, she wants to give the marriage a second chance.

For old times’ sake she meets up with Joe at Mo’s Bar and Grill, the very place where they saw each other for the first time all those years back, but they will also go to a play, to a Georgia O’Keeffe exhibition as well as to a baseball game and a sports bar…

Minimal scene and costume changes give the production a seamless, intimate, character. Pain and confusion punctuate the dialogue, but there are plenty of funny situations, too, and moments of actual closeness that make compromise look easy even though you soon realise that Britt and Joe are very different people and parents: Should you allow your seven-year-old son to play with dolls or should sports be the only option?

Not surprisingly, Bruce Springsteen presides over this world of bars and baseball caps. Joe, whose own declarations of love sound clumsy yet perfectly honest and thus never pathetic, is a keen fan. Erik Abbott succeeds in revealing both the vulnerable and the rather ruthless side of the character. You feel that Joe is beyond reform; the very word “rule” makes him run a mile: “I don’t want rules. You’ve got rules for everything. Can’t you ever just be?” Christine Probst, on the other hand, embodies a character torn between what is best for the boys and the way her own body is trapping her. Britt tries to hold on to the common ground she has only just dug up with Joe and negotiates with great eagerness. Yet how long will she be able to hide that she has an agenda and that time matters now more than ever?

You could, in fact, argue that the play is primarily about the couple’s sons, who are seven and eight. They never appear, but their framed portraits and the toys strewn around the edges of the stage are constant reminders of the safe family life they were meant to have. Fortunately, Hoke manages to avoid clichés and sentimentality throughout, even though the situation at the heart of her text would readily lend itself to tear-floods. Instead, she concentrates on fluctuating emotions and on sharp dialogue, while intimating that old habits will hardly ever die.

Flowers in the desert is showing at 19h30 tonight and tomorrow, and at 18h00 on Sunday; ticket reservations at www.actorsrep.lu.
Janine Goedert
© 2017 d’Lëtzebuerger Land