Browncoat Pub and Theatre’s inaugural production of their new season is “Flora and Fauna,” an original work by Craig Kittner. Much like Kittner himself (or really all of us), “Flora and Fauna” is a multi-dimensional script that turns out to be about more than what it is first presented.
A young woman knocks on the door of an insolated house at the end of a country lane outside Burlington, NC. Inside Mark (Beau Mumford) debates whether or not to answer the door. He decides to admit the young woman, Ellen (Maria Buchanan), into his home. Where is his brother, Charles (Richard Blaylock) who arranged all of this? Social awkwardness escalates for Mark and Ellen ‘til Charles arrives to alleviate it—or does he make it worse?
Five minutes into the show and already we have been confronted with three questions that are only answered with more questions. Slowly we begin to meet these broken but well-intentioned people who are desperately trying to shine their little corners of the world. In the midst of this, Kittner uses these people to ask the audience questions that would sound trite and post-Freudian in many settings: What is the connection we are all seeking really about? How empty are our lives without it? Is mental illness an illness? Is it a metaphor? Is it a lack of connection? Can we fix each other? Are we responsible for each other? Is it a sci-fi play, a psychological exploration or a look at family drama?
What we have are three portraits: In Blaylock’s Charles there is a disappointed middle-aged man who has tried to do the right thing by everyone he loves, and somehow he is still in a chasm of grief and doesn’t know why. Blaylock dwells in the confused frustration making him simultaneously the more empathetic and creepy character of the trio. To the other extreme is Mumford’s Mark, a horticulturist shut-in with profound coping problems. Inappropriate eye contact, poor communication skill, a literal understanding of everything are the tools in Mumford’s trunk. I wanted to shake him to make him pay attention, and just take a deep breath and interact normally with everyone else—but Mark can’t and Mumford really brings the edginess that Mark creates around him home to the audience. What begins as almost endearing rapidly becomes physically frustrating to watch. Just imagine being the brother who cares for him and is haunted by an inability to reach him?
But it is Buchanan’s Ellen with whom I sympathized the most. Is it because she is a young woman? Or that she finds herself in a caretaker role with no real power? Or because she clearly wants to believe Mark’s story (delusions)? Who among us has not truly wanted to believe something too fantastic to be real—either because the fantastic is alluring or because we want to believe in the person telling it? Aside from alternately sassing and silencing Charles, she has restrained her physicality with a mild limp that renders her not only confined in her ability to reach Mark who manages to orbit just beyond her reach, but also personally caught in her own prison (psychological and physical). In a three-person show, everyone has to hold up to their end of the bargain or nothing works.
I have been following the evolution of this script since I first saw it in workshop about a year ago. Kittner has tightened the script significantly and fleshed out Ellen’s dynamic with the two men. The script is original, creative and innovative. From a writing perspective, this is one of the more interesting options available right now. What I like the most is that the ending is not specific. Kittner leaves it up to the audience as to whether or not Mark is insane, and whether Ellen is humoring him, herself or preparing to delve head first into his madness. By the time the unexpected ending comes, the actors have truly laid the ground work to prepare us to believe any choice they might make.
Many people begin writing with a family drama or a love story. Oddly, this is partly a little of both without being either wholly. Original work is terrifying to offer to the world; in Wilmington we seem to have more playwrights crawling out of the woodwork than anywhere else except New York. Somehow they summon the courage to show a part of themselves bare to the world. Though they have the courage to try that, often their characters don’t. Kittner has leapt into the heads of three very terrified people and found a safe way for them to talk about their fears with each other. “Flora and Fauna” is at the beginning of its life, and I am so curious to see its evolution and what Kittner has in store next for the script and for the characters. (Is there a sequel?)
As the debut show of the season—and if this is any indication of what this year has to offer—Browncoat is off to a good start, featuring creative writing and interesting performances. The Browncoat has long positioned itself as a theatre lab for developing new works and nurturing writers. “Flora and Fauna” is an excellent example of their mission made manifest.
Flora and Fauna
May 28-31, June 4-7, Fri.-Sat., 7:30 p.m.; Sun., 5 p.m.
Browncoat Pub and Theatre
111 Grace Street • (910) 341-0001