Emerging Artists Project

at Cafe Voltaire

After the youthful Tom Monacell dies in an automobile accident, the position of family paragon falls to his younger brother, Anthony. A senior in college majoring in English and a writer of good–if academic–verse, Anthony has always held his older brother in awe and is unprepared for the attention his mother suddenly gives to him and his future. What are his plans? Why have his grades fallen in the last year? How does he intend to support himself after graduation? How can a writer support himself at all? His girlfriend Rachel–from whom he’s recently distanced himself but whom his mother fancies as a future daughter-in-law–also insists he address the concerns of those who love him. After some brooding over his brother’s enigmatic life and untimely death, Anthony concludes that the two women are right and agrees to accept their advice and affection.

And thus the career of a promising young writer comes to an end in playwright and director Patrick Riviere’s A Flower in Autumn. The crucial moment for the protagonist comes when Rachel denounces his spiritual isolation, saying, “If you keep [shutting us out], you won’t have anything left but your writing!” Experienced and inexperienced writers alike would be aware that frequent periods of spiritual isolation are necessary to a writer. Anthony, however, capitulates to the demands of the two women, who declare no purpose in life except to care for him. Meanwhile the circumstances of his parents’ divorce, his mother’s attitude toward his father, and any life Rachel may have outside of her relationship with Anthony are all dismissed in a sentence or two. Anthony announces his intention to register for business courses and tells Rachel, “I hope you could be the one to help me with my problems”–though the problems seem to be all in the heads of the two women, who need to be needed. In the final moments of the play, his mother threatens to call the police if he stays out after dark and bids him come home to supper. And like an obedient son, he goes.

The oedipal overtones, however inadvertent, are compounded by Riviere’s casting decisions: the 50-something Margaret Kustermann is an appropriate choice for Anthony’s mother, but Renee Krawitz’s imposing height and Rossettian beauty give Rachel more presence than her character is purported to have. Charles Vrba as Anthony looks to be no older than 12 in his crumpled jeans, faded T-shirt, and tousled curls, so the way the two mother figures fret over his plans seems all the more pathologically premature.

A Flower in Autumn is not so much a play as a series of dialogues in which the characters sort out their feelings, putting their emotions into carefully rehearsed, perfectly selected, instantly articulate words, with no sense of spontaneity or discovery. Indeed, so quintessential are the arguments that we can all but sing along with them. A program note indicates the play may be autobiographical, but however therapeutic writing it may have been for the author, as drama it offers little beyond the reminder that painful family confrontations often surface in the wake of grief and loss.