No one wants to hear the phrase "end-of-life decisions." Moments after being introduced to us via a daring act of heroism, James Blossom (voiced by Rowan Magee), is being advised by a doctor to make his as soon as possible. James, the eponymous Blossom of puppet artist, director, and filmmaker Spencer Lott's new play, developed with support from the Jim Henson Foundation, has just been diagnosed with Alzheimer's, and we follow James and his daughter Kathryn, a.k.a. Katy, a.k.a. Katy Bee (Jamie Agnello), as they do their best to navigate the practical, psychological, and emotional fallout of James's disease.
The advance of his Alzheimer's precipitates James's move into assisted living facility, against his wishes, of course. There, he meets fellow residents Maisey and Ronald. The symbolism around loss of control generated by all three of these elderly characters being embodied by puppets (while the puppeteers play the other various roles) may be intentional or accidental, but it is hard not to see. Just as Maisey was once a senator and Ronald a CEO, James, we discover, had a storied career as a painter in the film industry, a past to which he reconnects with the help of Kelly (Chelsea Fryer), a young volunteer who runs art classes at the nursing home. Together, James and Kelly begin a mural that takes on metaphorical aspects; when it is referred to as a work in progress, it calls to mind that James's life, even with Alzheimer's, even in an assisted living home, is also still being constructed. It is also a clear demonstration that for people like James, there are other ways of communicating, other ways of being, even if dementia means that they are not the ways that we expect or are used to. As another alternative form of communication, the show's use of puppetry allows the audience to experience James's flights of imagination mixed with memory. Truth in illusion is a thread that connects painting, movies, memories, and Blossom itself. As we see both within the play and on a metatheatrical level, art can offer a type of truth that can be different from, say, forgotten biographical truths, yet no less valid.
Magee, Agnello, and Fryer, along with Robert M. Stevenson and Sam Jay Gold, do excellent work bringing to life the characters, flesh or otherwise, inhabiting Blossom's world. These characters are, on the whole, trying to do good in a difficult situation; and while the play touches in passing on social issues like the $8,000 per month cost of James getting proper care and the insurance that won't cover it, it is primarily a personal story. Blossom is small in scope and universal in application: everyone gets old; everything changes; everything ends. Having very recently seen the Public Theater Mobile Unit's Hamlet, it was hard not to think of the gravedigger's scene, but Lott's play also stresses that we should appreciate the journey itself, in all it multifarious manifestations and methods of communication and remembrance. The journey can be beautiful even when it is mournful, much like Blossom itself. - Leah Richards & John Ziegler
Photo credit: Maria Baranova
Dr. Richards is an English professor in NYC, and spends her free time raising three cats and smashing the patriarchy.
When not writing reviews, Dr. Ziegler spends a lot of his time being an Assistant Professor of English in NYC and playing guitar in a death metal band.