A Dream About Sunflowers
nytheatre.com review by Ed Malin
June 13, 2010
As the characters state, a sunflower is made up of many individual plants called florets, which develop separately but in perfectly predictable geometric relationship to each other. A remote house surrounded by sunflowers would be the ultimate escape from a dangerous world. This story, appropriate to Planet Connections, is about individuals who feel obligated to help the whole and at the same time feel a desire to break free.
A Dream About Sunflowers is presented by Howling Moon Cab Company in the Planet Connections Theatre Festivity. When I entered the theatre, I picked up some information about composting (versions available for indoor and outdoor setups; this is New York City after all) and avoiding toxic products in the home. The proceeds from the various plays benefit different charities. This piece benefits Doctors Without Borders. It's easy to have good intentions; bravo for these artists for really doing something to help others and the planet.
What seems simple about this three-character piece is not so simple. Tom, the CEO of Geeks Without Borders, spends most of the show talking with his former employee Usha. Usha, an Indian woman, no longer works for the company and is paralyzed from the waist down due to an incident Tom caused. Tom also feels guilty about the death of his brother Jerry, the original founder of the company, who makes several flashback appearances. Jerry founded the software company with Tom to make a powerful database that could help refugees. Eventually, Jerry went to Chechnya in Tom's place to provide more hands-on assistance but was tortured and killed. As Tom helps thousands of people, nonetheless there are still deaths. Usha urges Tom to be satisfied with his effort and get out, but can he? Will he take pills to end his life? What happened to Usha in supposedly safe Sri Lanka? Will Tom's obvious caring for Usha be reciprocated?
I won't give away the ending. It certainly wasn't what I expected. Clearly, there is a lot of tension in Tom's world. Tom and Usha use the word "martyr" quite a lot. Tom also notes the effect on Jerry of too much work and too much drinking by calling the company "Geeks Without Boundaries." The tragedy is that people who care so much for people in general are not able to get close to individuals, except under miraculous circumstances.
I think this play is well written and in the end the mystery pays off. Amber Gallery directs a piece which is mostly a blunt confrontation with the action happening in flashbacks. Shaun Peknic's lighting places us in the darkness that this late night meeting deserves, with sudden bursts of light for the flashbacks. Patrick Burchill as Tom is alternately fresh and full of idealism or at the end of his rope. Megha Nabe as Usha would rather drag herself across the floor than let Tom pick her up and put her on the sofa. Accordingly, she is full of uncomfortable truths and questions. She's the kind of character who can make the line "You don't love me, you love the idea of loving me" work. Aaron Davis as Jerry, on the other hand, is an "asshole" and he knows it. Always drinking and living life to the fullest, his justification for rushing into a war zone is the geeky "What Would Gandalf Do?" By the way, the florets on a sunflower form spirals and the number of left and right spirals are successive numbers in a Fibonacci sequence; like the events of the play, one's place in the grand scheme can be hard to see except when one is removed from the action.