Love and Botany sprouts six unique tales of plants, romance, and unlikely connections.
CulturalDC has married some unlikely theatrical bedfellows for its ongoing Source Festival, and none more unexpected than Love and Botany. This quirky collection of ten minute shorts spans six tales of “plants and romance” that are entertaining, if not periodically mystifying.
The show opens with the sweet romantic short The Tomato and the Onion. Kendall Helblig and Matt Sparacino play two opposites ready to share their hearts, symbolized by the titular fruit and vegetable. The short relies on a simple premise, great chemistry, and strong performances. Writer Simon Henriques has a knack for natural humor; toward the end of the short, he squeezes in a joke about how good relationships are like good salsa without skipping a beat. The Tomato and the Onion is a case study in how to squeeze satisfying plot and character development into a scant minutes.
The next short, Manus Dei, addresses long distance relationships through the lens of butterfly migrations. It’s a creative concept, but the show stumbles a bit out of the gate. As botanist Evelyn Price, Chantal Martineau stumbles over a boatload of horticulture jargon, throwing off the early rhythm of the scene. After her exit, the play rights itself as Shawn Jain and Alison Daniels argue comically over their two-weeks-a-year relationship. Jain stands out as an opportunistic schemer, comically playing the situation and his co-stars emotions to his advantage.
The third play, Dioecious, really gets into the weeds, so to speak. Three ostensibly alien scientists monitor two captive humans silently emoting at center stage. The scientists discuss themes of procreation, love, and reincarnation through alien eyes, with a heavy dose of science jargon. In trying to create a new spin on love, writer Kristen Davis-Coelho removes the audience from the human drama, creating a disorienting experience despite heartfelt performances from the cast. In the middle of the confusion, silent captives Erick Sotomayor and Caroline Lucas create entrancing imagery through graceful, modern dance infused choreography.
The fourth play, Allergy, poses an interesting question: What if you were allergic to everything? Shawn Jain and Chantal Martineau build a nice rapport as two space colonists bonding over memories of long-lost Earth, with Jain trapped in quarantine by a crippling physical aversion to their new planet. Jain finds unexpected comedy by elevating our everyday objects to mysterious artifacts, like reimagining a sewing machine as a medical transfusion device. Writer Erica Smith uses just the right touch with the Botany angle, inserting plants as a symbol of new life and hopeful coda for Jain’s plagued colonist.
Shorts: Love & Botany
June 5 – 28
1835 14th Street, NW
1 hour, 15 minutes
Tickets: $10 – $32
Details and Tickets or call 866.811.4111
A Bouquet a Day rounds out the somewhat uneven evening with a madcap comedy about a fading celebrity whose need for attention is literally life threatening. The magnetic Lee Gerstenhaber plays Laura, an intense, former-celebrity artist who once received flowers every day and now fears the end of the bouquets. Laura’s only visitor is a sympathetic, skeptical delivery man, played with good natured concern by Tekle Ghebremeschel. Gerstenhaber nails Laura’s increasingly erratic behavior, rapidly changing topics and casting mad glances like a latter day Robin Williams. Director Lila Rachel Becker deserves mention for wrangling involving performances and solid pacing into the best play of the night.
Unsurprisingly, Love resonates much more than Botany. The play thrives on human connections, while the gardening and nature angles mostly add color and fresh perspective. While the play series does suffer from uneven storytelling throughout, there’s enough quality here to deliver an engaging, mind-expanding evening.
The 2015 Source Festival is produced by CulturalDC. Artistic Direction by Jenny McConnell Frederick. Reviewed by Ben Demers.