BOTTOM LINE: A play for children and adults alike that takes us through some imaginative fairy tales in the attic of a suburban family.
Stinky Flowers and the Bad Banana evokes those special places many of us had growing up. As children, we often have that seemingly secluded area - maybe a secret alley, or a quiet part of the woods - where the troubles of real life melt away and imagination reigns supreme. For the three Turner siblings Sinclair, Sam and Stu (Michael J. Connolly, Lauren Sowa and Robert James Grimm III respectively) growing up in the Kansas suburbs, that place of magic was their attic. They spend their days, wide-eyed and innocent among the bric-a-brac boxes and discarded junk, with their imaginary friends (Chuck Blasius and the wonderfully charming Dorothy Abrahams), and even their imaginary friends' imaginary friends. In their attic, the Turner kids repurpose familial items that no one else would find a use for, conjuring wild fairy tales of monkey clans and gunk-filled villages, of malodorous flora and prophetic young women. They're always eager to find an excuse to tell these tales yet one more time, all the while making sure their spelling is in tip-top form and proper grammar is always used.
Stinky Flowers and the Bad Banana is undeniably a children's show, although it is just as suitable for those young at heart. It is performed with the deft and somewhat dark professionalism of WTE Theatre. Walking down the cramped stairway into the low-ceilinged and lobbyless Under St. Marks Theatre, you and your child may have the same transformative effects take over you that the Turner kids experience every time they enter their attic. Through proper use of its setting, clever use of its props, and a large dose of pure imagination, Stinky Flowers does a lot to bring the magic back into good old-fashioned storytelling. Scenic designer Jennifer Varbalow has transformed the already small venue into a positively cramped hovel, filled with all the shadowy nooks and crannies and dusty old who-knows-what that spur the Turner siblings on.
The stories come fast and furious, as the audience takes on the role of a new imaginary friend that needs to be caught up in their repertoire. Once the mystery of our arrival has been sufficiently unraveled, we plunge head first into the high-octane fast-paced presentations that have old and young alike in giggles. But it's not all fun and games throughout. Storytelling offers these children a chance to escape, and some of the most moving moments of the performances come when we begin to glimpse what it is they are escaping from. The more serious moments are not so dark as to make Stinky Flowers unsuitable for younger audience members, but they do offer intriguing insight into how children cope with adult issues before they are mature enough to fully understand them. The Turner siblings deal with these issues the way any child should, and the way grownups often forget: with pure contagious fun. Bring the kids if you like, or just come for some innocent laughs, as Stinky Flowers and the Bad Banana offers a good time for everyone.
(Stinky Flowers and the Bad Banana plays at Under St. Marks Theatre, 94 St. Marks Place, through October 24th. Performances are Thursday and Friday at 8pm and Saturday at 3pm and 8pm. Tickets are $18 for adults and $10 for children and are available at smarttix.com or by calling 212.686.4444. For more information visit WTE at www.wtetheatre.org.)