Stinky Flowers and the Bad Banana
nytheatre.com review by Ishah Janssen-Faith
July 15, 2007
Croft Vaughn has constructed an endearing and enchanting meander through the excitable mind of one exceptional child. He taps right into the plight of any young tall-tale-teller who would almost rather live in his imagined world over ours. In Stinky Flowers and The Bad Banana, Vaughn plays Sinclair, a nine-year-old boy who's closest friends are his Grandfather and the characters in the old man's stories. With utter excitement and abandon, he brings to life a Kingdom with enchanted "Stinky Flowers," a morality story of warring monkey tribes, and the poignant tale of the "Silent Girl and the Whaling Boy" who find their true selves in one another. He does all this with only the aid of an overhead projector, himself, and a wonderfully surprising digital treat (which I cannot possibly reveal).
For the most part, the show is concerned with telling us these amazing stories that Sinclair's Grandfather had told him in the hopes of teaching his grandson some important life lessons. They are, however, woven together with bits of Sinclair's real life. It is here, in that back story, that unwarranted sentimentality creeps in and threatens to dampen an otherwise delightful experience. But the strength of the stories stays their ground and holds the urge for the sentimental at bay. Let me be the first to say, it is more than enough to watch this totally engaging performer tell eloquent, touching, and beautiful stories with subtlety, sensitivity, and grace. Vaughn, and his keen director, Adam Goldstein, would do well to trust the stories, trust the performer and leave the back story to our imaginations. I for one could watch Vaughn spin a tale all night, and would happily imagine where he might go next.
And where might they go next? I had the good fortune of seeing a small portion of this show last year at a night of snippets from longer shows, and I have been humming the "Stinky Flower Song" ever since. Vaughn has written the show with such fun and nuance, I am thrilled to have gotten the chance to see the full-length version. As a performer, he is utterly adorable and entrancing. He employs techniques of clowning (not the scary kind), direct audience address and participation (not the embarrassing kind), and traditional storytelling (not the patronizing kind). He gets excited to tell us a new tale the same way a real child gets excited when they have a good story to tell, or want to show off their favorite new toy. And that excitement is contagious. You want to sing along with him, you want to hear what will happen next, and you want the show to go on for a long time. It's rare that I want more from a show, but I did leave wanting more stories. Perhaps another installment is in the works, or is that just wishful thinking? For now, I reckon the Edinburgh audiences will do just fine with the one on offer. One can always hope for more of a good thing.