By Bridgette M. Redman
There are many things that can heal a hurt: connecting with others, working with one's hands, being in a new environment, creating something, or even a metaphor.
Flint Youth Theatre is premiering a play that displays how all these things can come together to heal individuals, families and maybe even a community.
"Bloom" is a new work by a Flint-based playwright, Andrew Morton. It brings together a multi-generational cast of five filled with people each facing individual griefs and losses. Social worker Michelle asks her father, Bobby, to let a teenager work with him in his garden lots for a week. While neither Daniel nor Bobby are very social nor think much of this idea, they are able to bond over the work that they do, especially as a week grows into an entire summer.
Rodney Creech as Bobby is a superior actor who does a fine job with a range of emotions. He blooms with his garden, becoming more alive, more vibrant and in increasingly better health. Creech starts as an irascible loner who is set in his ways and missing his dead wife. He brings a light touch to the role, so that we are able to laugh at his foibles while still growing to adore Bobby. He reveals a wisdom that is endearing and heartfelt.
As a young actor, Merek Alam is up to the challenge of playing Daniel opposite Creech. He also goes through great growth during the course of the play, and he shows it in his body language, speech patterns and pacing. He starts out very closed off, a boy grieving the loss of his father, the loss of his privacy, and feeling out of place in his new home. He plays well the awkwardness of an out-of-place teenager, especially in the scenes with the neighbor girl Ashley, played by Layla Meillier.
The strengths of this play are in the relationships, and all the actors play well the connections and disconnections between characters. The bond between Bobby and Daniel is tenuous at first, but grows into a strong one by the end of the play. The scenes between Alam and Meiller are a delight to anyone who remembers the awkwardness of teen dating, especially between two people who have cause to be suspicious and are quick to turn on each other. These two young actors mine all the awkwardness while being able to also find a tenderness and a growing affection and comfort.
"Bloom" also explores the relationships between father and adult daughter, and mother and teen son. Deirdre S. Baker is Michelle, Bobby's daughter, a busy social worker who connects more with her wards than she does with her father. She's always busy and is present in Bobby's life in short bursts. Still, they have a loving connection and the opening scene between them is a kernel of the delight that is to come. It reveals a playfulness between them and a deep love even as they don't always understand each other.
Likewise, Beth Guest is the struggling Lisa whose life has been upturned by the death of her husband, and she's trying to create a new life for Daniel and herself. We see in her the mother who wants to understand her teen son, but there is a barrier of silence and resentment that she has to find a way around.
What makes "Bloom" work is that it tells a story on multiple levels that are specific and universal at the same time. Director Jeremy Winchester makes sure the play never gets heavy-handed, and he focuses on telling the story so that the story can work as one about relationships, about a garden, about a broken community, and about a city that needs to heal. It is about Flint, but it could be about any city where there is poverty. It is about a garden, but it could be about any creative endeavor that takes time, love and commitment. It is about relationships between strangers, between parent and child, between girlfriend and boyfriend, but it could be about any relationship where a strong bond is formed.
Winchester also directs a crew that supports the storytelling in fine form. The stagehands were well choreographed as they brought out an ever-changing garden that went from dirt to full bloom. They made the set changes quick and interesting to watch. Winchester also designed the sound, a constant soundtrack of city noises from ambulances to traffic, sirens and vague people noises.
Morton's "Bloom" is well-planted at Flint Youth Theatre for its debut. It is a show that deserves to blossom on other stages, because while it is about Flint, it is not merely a story set in one place. "Bloom" is a beautiful tale of growth, of connection, of hope, and of ways to overcome whatever it is that life throws at us.
Flint Youth Theatre, 1220 E. Kearsley St., Flint. 7:30 p.m. May 16, 17, 23 & 24, and 2:30 p.m. May 11, 18, 24 & 25. 1 hour, 38 minutes. $12-16. 810-237-1530. http://www.flintyouththeatre.org