Thursday, September 15, 2016
Review: ‘Blossom,’ a Puppet’s Tale of Alzheimer’s
With his tufted white eyebrows and kindly old face, James Blossom is instantly endearing — even more so in his patterned sweater vest and jaunty bow tie. But when he first appears at the start of Spencer Lott’s puppet play, “Blossom,” at Dixon Place, James is outfitted for underwater adventure.
His mission is straightforward, in a Hollywood sort of way: to defuse a nuclear bomb near New York Harbor and save the world. He does it, of course. In the cinematic fantasies of his increasingly untethered mind, there’s always a heroic way out.
It’s reality that’s getting tricky. A widower at 76, he has Alzheimer’s disease, and after he leaves his cherished motorcycle in the middle of the street, being at home alone is no longer an option. So his daughter, Kathryn, devoted but overwhelmed, trundles him and his favorite armchair off to assisted living at a place called Garden Ridge.
“Blossom” intercuts James’s deterioration there with the exploits he imagines, all tied to his past in a way that’s sweet to discover. Mr. Lott’s script is sensitive, mostly avoiding clichés as it traces stages of decline and the familial trauma that goes with them.
This ambitious production — directed by Mr. Lott, who also designed the puppets — does many things well, foremost the puppetry: When the residents at Garden Ridge doze off, you can see them gently breathing. The show’s sound (by Chris Gabriel) is strikingly evocative, and the lighting (by Alex Jainchill) is playful and imaginative, particularly in a night scene when James goes for a ride on his Harley.
It’s speech that foils “Blossom,” which can be wonderful in its wordless moments. Rowan Magee does a delicate job as James’s principal puppeteer, making his movements spry early on, tentative and confused as his health weakens. Yet almost everything James says, voiced by Mr. Magee, sounds as if it’s coming out of the mouth of a hale 30-something.
That fatal disconnect between the visual and the vocal saps the tenderness from the relationship between James and Kathryn (who is a human, not a puppet, and is nicely played by Jamie Agnello).
Another Garden Ridge resident, a potato-faced golf nut named Ronald, doesn’t have many lines, but his main puppeteer, Sam Jay Gold, makes the most of them. Ronald is ridiculous, yet we believe in him.
James is the star, though. On paper, he’s poignant. But in this production, there’s no ache where the ache needs to be.
Story Source: The above story is based on materials provided by NYTIMES
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