I'm really late to the game on this one, as The Blue Flower closed at the Second Stage Theatre (2ST) about a month ago, but I'm taking advantage of the semester break to catch up on some of my long-overdue blogging. So here goes.
I always like to give shows a second chance, no matter what my initial reaction may have been. Even if the first time I see I show I absolutely hate it, I like to think that I remain reasonably open-minded upon subsequent viewings. Reasonably, that is. It's rare for me to completely change my mind, but I frequently see something new to appreciate the second time around in even the worst shows.
Not so with The Blue Flower. In fact, I liked the show in New York even less than when I saw it at the American Repertory Theater about a year ago. Of course, I wasn't really a fan of the show in its Cantabridgian incarnation. (Read my original review.) I found it painfully, unforgivably oblique and unengaging. But I at least had a sense of admiration for what the authors were trying to do, and I could see that there was the potential for pathos in the story, even if, as the show was then configured, I didn't feel any actual empathy for the characters.
The Second Stage production, once again under the direction of Will Pomerantz, is much less sharp than his production at the ART. The costumes by Carol Bailey and set by Marsha Ginsberg at the ART were much more visually distinctive and specific, and gave a stronger sense of time and place than those of Ann Hould-Ward (costumes) and Beowulf Boritt (set) at the 2ST. In particular, Boritt's skeletal wooden design looked like an unfinished high-school set.
As for the content of The Blue Flower, my main criticisms of the show remain intact upon second viewing. The story has potential but the treatment is limp. The characters are mere placeholders, approximating human emotion. As writer, composer, and lyricist for The Blue Flower, Jim Bauer seems to have used as his guiding dictum "Tell, don't show." There seems to be a bit more actual dialog in the show than when it was in Cambridge, but there's still an off-putting amount of narration. Events are announced rather than acted out. The fates of the characters are described rather than shown.
What's more, the style of the music in the show seems random, ranging from bland pop to jarringly inappropriate country and western. The show is mostly set during and between the Wars in Germany. Why Bauer seemed to think that taking his inspiration from Shania Twain would serve the piece, I can only speculate.
As a lyricist, Bauer falls victim to those all-too-common lyrical vices: slant rhyme (pairing "yellow" with "hollow") and assonance ("Michelangelo's" and "holes"). I know that many people are far more forgiving than I about these devices, but I remain a purist when it comes to rhyming. Perhaps more damning, Bauer's lyrics are oblique and generic. At the end of act one, the Marie Curie character, after a fairly significant loss, sings about climbing the Eiffel Tower. The lyric starts:
Fire, water, ice
Silence, patience, time
Doorways, windows, eyes
Change, oceans, sighs
I haven't the slightest idea what all that means, nor what it has to do with the Eiffel Tower, and I'm really not much inclined to give it much more thought. In the show's final song, the four central characters join together to sing a song about ships in a harbor:
Angels on the levee
Are waiting for me,
And I'm up in the crow's nest.
A reminder: this show is about three artists and a scientist in Germany between the Wars. And the reason we're ending the show with a song about boats would be...? For me, it was a real "Song of Purple Summer" moment. Spring Awakening fittingly ends with a song that sounds pretty but bears scant relation to the proceedings at hand: I say "fittingly" because much of the rest of the score feels like unintegrated pop tunes. How similarly appropriate that The Blue Flower, which also features songs of questionable relevance, should end with what is perhaps the most peripheral lyric in the show.
I know certain people are crazy about this show, but I'm just not seeing it. Please enlighten me. All I can say is, as I was eagerly exiting the theater, I overheard a few of my fellow patrons speculating as to the meaning of the show's title. "What was the significance of The Blue Flower? Did you get what the Blue Flower was?"
Honestly, I did not.