The setting of Bloom by Marco Antonio Rodriguez is bleak – not just for the spare kitchen, cheap chairs and table, adjoining room with a simple cot (well thought out by scenic designer Lynne Koscielniak) – but also for the two bleak figures trapped in the space: a bruised and beaten young man, Roan (Rafael Beato), sitting at the table and his mother, Julia (Monica Steuer) furiously cleaning up in the kitchen.
After what seems like an endless period of banging pots and screaming retorts, it comes about that Julia and Roan live in a near future time and place where being any type of LGBTQ person is punishable by death, and not by any usual and customary means of capital punishment either. After Roan has been imprisoned for 14 days and tortured for his “shameful lifestyle,” he is returned to his mother’s home, where the current government says she must be the one to end his life as punishment. If she doesn’t kill him herself, then her life and the lives of the rest of the family will be taken instead.
Essentially there are two basic story constructs happening in Bloom:
- Mother and son, living in fear in a near dystopian future, face a terrible, life-and-death decision
- Mother and son come together and learn how to forgive and love each other again
Both of these topics are great subjects for a play, but in Bloom there just isn’t room for both and they don’t work well together as presented. Julia has exactly one hour to decide whether she’s going to kill Roan herself or die along with the rest of the family, yet for the bulk of the hour she and Roan spend their time rehashing their mother/son past, airing bitter complaints and sharing some funny and special moments. They lollygag, tell stories to each other, talk about sex, smoke weed, act out stories and discover their lost affection. Every once in a while, there’s some ominous pounding on the door which reminds them of what’s coming, but then they just jump back into how-many-ways-can-mother-and-son-catch-up-on-old-times as if no one’s supposed to die, and very, very soon.
There’s not enough urgency to match the dystopian thriller timeframe, and there’s too much mother/son repartee stuffed in between. Rodriguez has put too much content inside the 70 minutes, making the actors rush from one mother/son scenario to another, checking the box and moving on, short-changing moments which need more time to allow truthful telling. Some plot elements and exchanges could have been totally left out; for example, Julia revealing to Roan that she has cancer is totally distracting and unnecessary, as is the unbelievable dialog where Julia tells Roan all the things men have done with their mouths to her nether regions, in vivid detail, sound effects included. One would not expect a mother to share those things with a son, and one would expect the son to whine, “C’mom, Mom, ewwww!” but no, not Roan, he just sits there laughing, eating it up (pun not intended but there you have it). On top of such unrealistic dialog, the script also frequently employs lightning-quick, single word exchanges which have Julia/Roan constantly interrupting each other so often that it’s difficult to understand what they’re trying to say.
At the beginning, it seems as though Steuer is going to yell at Beato throughout the entire play, until it becomes Beato’s turn to spew vitriol back, and that goes on for some time as well. Fortunately, the anger dies down and the actors are able to bring some variation and sincerity to their performances. In the end, Steuer and Beato both do their best to commit to the writing they’re given, and they make admirable opportunities to share deeply and emotionally with each other; the audience gets a chance to actually believe them and actually care about what happens to their characters. There’s an especially nice scene where Roan acts out some stories he wrote as a child, and Julia joins in; these moments, and the moments where Roan writes a new story at her request, are when Beato and Steuer really shine. In this instance, the script is commended for giving them a nicely written segment so that they may do what they do.
Direction by Victoria Pérez could have better negotiated the script transitions and emotional shaping of the piece; however, script, director and actors, as well as lighting design by Miguel Valderrama and sound design by Michael Hernandez all come together to create a moving ending which comes with no answers but does provide a sense of closure. Bloom hasn’t fully flowered in this incarnation, but perhaps more will be revealed in future productions.
Bloom (April 16 – May 8, 2022)
IATI Theater, 64 East 4th Street, in Manhattan
For tickets visit http://www.iatitheater.org/shows/detail/bloom
Running time: one hour and 15 minutes without an intermission