With its scandalous tale of intergenerational family intrigue, greed and four children hidden for months in the family mansion's top floor, Flowers in the Attic made the bestseller list two weeks after it was released in 1979 — and has occasionally been banned by libraries. It has sold more than 40 million copies and spawned many books in multiple series, though Andrew Neiderman (The Devil's Advocate) took over for Flowers author V.C. Andrews, who wrote only seven of the roughly 100 books published under her name. Local actor and director Christopher Bentivegna was hooked when he first read Flowers while growing up in New Jersey.
"It was so titillating," he says. "It's written in a hypnotic way; it lures you in."
In Flowers, Corrine Dollanganger's husband dies, leaving her and their four children in debt. She moves them to her wealthy parents' home but hides the kids in their attic so her father won't know of their existence, which protects her inheritance. Corrine's mother cooperates with the ploy, but she is hostile toward the kids, convinced there is something unholy threatening her otherwise strict religious ways. The children soon learn what's going on in their family.
Bentivegna wrote a one-act play version of the story, but at Old Marquer Theater, his See 'Em On Stage: A Production Company is presenting Neiderman's recently published adaptation. Following the success of a TV version of Flowers in 2014, Neiderman wrote a version for the theater. Bentivegna read it, contacted Neiderman and convinced him to let See 'Em On Stage produce its world premiere.
See 'Em On Stage is two years old, and it's already established a reputation for doing musicals, particularly outrageous and gory, blood-splattering works such as its debut, the slasher mashup Evil Dead: The Musical. It followed up with the zombie movie tribute Musical of the Living Dead and an acclaimed run of the lesser-known work Zanna, Don't!, a high school romance in a world where homosexuality is the norm and heterosexuals dare to declare their love publicly. Its upcoming season features Terminator: The Musical in November.
Doing the straight drama Flowers appealed to Bentivegna because it's a chance to do a premiere, and it plays off his longtime interest in the Andrews books, which includes the author's series about a bayou girl named Ruby Landry, much of which is set in New Orleans.
"The Ruby series has a lot to do with why I moved here," Bentivegna says. "[Neiderman] did a great job describing New Orleans. I felt like I knew something about the city. The first time I spent money to go on a vacation, I came to New Orleans."
Bentivegna and Neiderman communicate regularly by email. He asked the playwright for permission to turn the clock back on the modern timeframe — to not deal with smartphones and technology that make the children's isolation unbelievable. Neiderman agreed and gave him latitude to make changes that don't interfere with the meaning of the work, Bentivegna says. He's also shared posters and materials with Neiderman as the two have discussed the premiere. Neiderman won't be able to attend the show because he will be in Europe, but for years there has been talk of making the Ruby books into a TV series shot in New Orleans, Bentivegna says.