Magic, illusion and brilliant puppetry soften this sad tale of mental erosion
By Joel Benjamin
Blossom deals delicately, yet movingly, with the tragic subject of Alzheimer’s Disease and its erosive effect on the title character. Writer/director Spencer Lott filled the intimate Dixon Place theater space with dreamscapes—not lacking wistful humor or whimsy—images that still resonate in my mind. Even as reality imposed itself on the rapidly diminished James Blossom, the title character, Lott and his colleagues imbued him and the other characters—puppets and humans—with rich inner lives making us care for them deeply.
Aged widower James Blossom (an exquisitely detailed puppet, worked and voiced primarily by Rowan Magee) has obvious mental issues, forgetting where he is, what he ate, all the usual problems of Alzheimer’s. He was a scenic designer for a major motion picture studio, had a brilliant career and a happy marriage, but now cannot take care of himself. He finds himself lost in dreams and fantasies.
His extremely warm-hearted daughter, Kathryn (played with clarity and depth by real human Jamie Agnello) is forced to consolidate the family’s economic resources, and put her own life on hold, to place her dad in a decent, caring home where he meets two other eccentric, but deteriorating patients: puppets Maizie, a homespun, but still sensual lady who entices Blossom, and Ron, who believes, amongst other things, that he is still playing rounds of golf.
Blossom wants to go home and gets agitated, particularly when he is forced to eat anything but chocolate ice cream, retreating more and more into his fantasies which echo the films he worked on. He deep sea dives, hunts in safaris and rides a motorcycle accompanied by a movie star he loved, fantasies all evoked using silhouettes, lighting and everyday items magically transformed and smartly manipulated. (Skillfully cut cellophane becomes a jelly fish. A chair, with two bowls becomes a motorcycle.) The final image of Blossom, when he meets his fate, is breathtaking in its quiet beauty and dignity.
Blossom’s extraordinary artistic talents attract the attention of the arts and crafts director, Kelly (another human, the eager and sensitive Chelsea Fryer) who understands that art therapy for Blossom means painting on a grand scale. Her caring and support keep Blossom going far longer than he might have without her ministrations.
The hard-working , quietly masterful cast of actors and puppeteers was completed by Sam Jay Gold and Robert M. Stevenson.
Lott’s puppet designs were incredibly detailed, from the clothing they wore to their expressions and the tiny furniture—chairs, beds, wheelchairs, tables, etc.—they occupied, joining brilliantly with Simon Harding’s set design. The complicated flights of imagination were illuminated by Alex Jainchill’s lighting which created multiple playing areas and Chris Gabriel’s sound design, complementing Spencer Lott’s book.
Blossom (September 9, 10, 16, 17, 23 & 24, 2016)
161A Chrystie Street, between Rivington and Delancey Streets New York, NY
For tickets, call 212-219-0736 or 866-811-4111 or visit www.dixonplace.org
Running time: one hour 10 minutes