Corrine is estranged from her parents because she married her half-uncle. After he dies suddenly, she decides to return to her wealthy parents' home but learns that her dying father has written her out of his will. To get back in his favor, she tries to keep her four children a secret in Flowers in the Attic, presented by See 'Em On Stage at the Old Marquer Theatre.
Directed by Christopher Bentivegna, Flowers is a memory play, in which an older Cathy (Jen Pagan) narrates past events which are portrayed by young Cathy (Kali Russell). Pagan plays the narrator in an airy, ghostlike way. Though some of this narration feels unnecessary — such as telling the audience what to expect — the device acts as a buffer and helps contextualize the play's subject matter. V.C. Andrews' best-selling 1979 novel was adapted for the stage by her successor, Andrew Neiderman, who has published dozens of books under her name, many of them featuring consensual incestuous relationships. But the show is about more than that. At its core, the story is one of survival, and it explores the psychology of captivity.
Corrine (Rebecca Elizabeth Hollingsworth) has been cast out of her family, and the only way her mother will allow Corrine's children in her home is if they are under lock and key in the attic. They aren't allowed to go outside or stand near the window. Their grandmother Olivia (Mary Pauley) has an extremely strict religious outlook and is convinced that siblings Cathy and Christopher (Levi Hood) are having sex. Olivia terrorizes the kids by forcing them to read the Bible and denying them food. She is entrenched in shame, and Pauley shows how unhinged and volatile shame can make a person.
The entire drama takes place in the attic, but scenic designer Matthew Collier transforms the stage into an expansive space filled with costumes and games. Many of these items have been bought by Corrine, who eventually proves to be as maniacal as her mother. At first, she's upset about her children's situation, but after a few months — as the four kids become gaunt and sickly — she moves on with her life. Hollingsworth brings the right mix of warmth and detachment to make the character believable and complicated.
Cathy and Christopher become surrogate parents for their younger siblings, blond twins Cory (Edward Boudreaux IV) and Carrie (Daisey Mackey). As Cathy, Russell is dynamite, both fierce and vulnerable. Hood's character is the more sensible one, and his transformation holds the narrative together. The two siblings have been betrayed by their mother, and the trauma makes them seek comfort from one another.
The production handles touchy subject matter in a delicate way. The strong acting and direction push the story away from shocking territory into a more thoughtful though troubling place.