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Mary Institute St. Louis Country Day School Flowers for Algernon

By • Oct 17th, 2012 • Category: Cappies, Missouri

Poet Robert Burns once wrote “The best laid plans of mice and men/Often go awry,” a sentiment perfectly captured in MICDS’ inspiring recent production of Flowers for Algernon.

Flowers for Algernon, written by David Rogers, is based on the 1958 critically acclaimed short story-turned-novel of the same name by Daniel Keyes. Flowers centers on Charlie Gordon, an intellectually challenged adult with a passion for learning. Charlie receives the opportunity to become the first human test subject of a risky new operation designed to radically elevate IQ levels. The operation saw success in another subject, a mouse named Algernon, whom Charlie befriends as the two find their way through the maze of challenges life after the operation brings.

Peter Condie portrayed Charlie with incredible respect, clarity, and depth. The gradual ebb and flow of Charlie’s intelligence allowed Condie to show the audience the dynamics of Charlie’s experience while remaining true to the character throughout the entire show. His near-perfect physicalizations of a man severely mentally handicapped raised the show from a science fiction fantasy to a realistic story of acceptance.

Prof. Harold Nemur (Dennis Shultz) shone most through his brilliant chemistry with Dr. Jay Strauss (John Dunagan). Dunagan’s strong character choices highlighted Strauss’ ambivalence about the experiment. Schultz and Dunagan together deftly side-stepped any “mad scientist” stereotypes and instead opted for layered portrayals of two ethically conflicted men. Charlie’s family (Lara Fox, Chris Dorr, Nora Chapin-Eppert, and Brendan Hart) all excelled at successful pantomime, their characters developing in tandem with Charlie’s mental growth. Some actors struggled to find a balance between their character and the scene occurring, however, the collective strength of the small cast covered any severe faults.

As remarkable as the performances were, the technical aspect of Flowers stole the show. Props (Kadija Howes) included real food and drink, working antique tape recorders, and a live mouse. The spectacular lighting design by Emily Ruskey and James Meade integrated strobe and black lights creatively utilized to show Charlie’s flashbacks to his childhood. Sound design (John Dunagan, Preeti Umashankar) worked seamlessly with both the action onstage and the other technical aspects to chill the audience through the incorporation of haunting children’s rhymes while still keeping Charlie’s journey the center focus. At times distracting backstage noises shook the audience out of the story; however, the problems were quickly remedied and overshadowed by the impressive and tasteful display of technological prowess by MICDS’s production staff.

Anchored by strong characters and nearly flawless tech work, MICDS’s production of Flowers handled a volatile issue with a gentle and exceptionally powerful hand.

Flowers for Algernon tackles issues from the 1950s still crucial to our social discourse today. Setting the show in the black box theater brought the audience almost uncomfortably near to the story, but as with everything in MICDS’s production it served a greater purpose — to force the audience to look inwards and question, just as Charlie does, “Who is to say my light is better than your darkness?”

by Mary Baker of Marquette High School

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