There is redemption in a flower. With a little care, a little attention, some water and a seed, something beautiful can be summoned from the dirt.
With “Bloom,” the latest production from the Neuse Little Theatre, Smithfield’s community playhouse looks for beauty in unlikely or forgotten places.
After the death of his father, teenager Daniel, played by George Russing, and his mom Lisa, played by Shannon Plummer-White, move to a new but rough town in the name of affordability.
The town is modeled after Flint, Mich., the hometown of playwright Andrew Morton, but it could just as well be any medium-sized town in Eastern North Carolina.
These are towns of yesteryear. Maybe their best days are in the future, but they carry memories of better days from their pasts, their optimism pinned up with seemingly permanent “For Rent” signs in the beautiful but vacant downtown windows.
“It could be any city that has seen hard times,” said director Meta Toole, an NLT veteran.
When the play starts, Daniel has been suspended from school for hurling a chair and breaking a window. It’s not the kind of thing that’s all that uncommon in the town, where Daniel also gets mugged and has his bike stolen, but Toole said at least one person takes a chance on Daniel.
“He’s lost his dad, his home, all of his friends; he’s changed schools,” Toole said. “He’s suspended from school, and his social worker/counselor has seen something different in him than the other kids she deals with.”
That social worker, Michelle, played by Nichole Braswell, introduces Daniel to her father, Bobby, an older man and recent widower who has watched the neighborhood decay around him. But while he lets his house fall apart around him, he continues to meticulously care for the neighborhood’s garden.
“I wouldn’t say he’s a hermit, but he’s not very social; he stays to himself,” said Sammy Smith, who plays Bobby. “He and his wife started gardening. She started harvesting the garden and giving it to folks in the neighborhood.”
While he’s suspended, Daniel starts working in the garden with Bobby, to each of their annoyance and chagrin. But eventually they cultivate a friendship to match the vegetables growing in their garden.
“It’s just a really good, positive story,” Toole said. “When we read it, we said it feels real and sort of true. There’s not any characters you have to put on; people behave like real people do. It’s not your farce, it’s not your mystery, it feels more like it could happen down the street.”
Plummer-White, who lives in the Cleveland community and is making her debut on the NLT stage, agreed that the realism helps “Bloom” feel more relateable.
“It’s not like you’re performing a play; it’s an extenuation of real life,” Plummer-White said. “But with a sweet ending. Every character is relateable in some aspect.”
Every community have its ebb and flow, bright spots and dark corners. “Bloom” argues the town doesn’t belong to the best of its residents or the worst, but to those willing to care for it. A garden will become a bed of weeds if you let it, or a bed of flowers if you work it.
“There’s a real satisfaction in being able to see something good come up out of the dirt,” Toole said. “You know plants grow, you water them, you feed them, and they grow. They don’t care where they’re at or what environment they’re in. You can see progress in a plant.”
“Bloom” also stars Rhonda Kodak as Ashley, a girl in the neighborhood who also takes an interest in Daniel.
The Neuse Little Theatre will present “Bloom” at 8 p.m. March 31 and April 1, 3 p.m. April 2 and 8 p.m. April 7-8 at the Hut on Market Street in Smithfield. Tickets are $13 in advance and $15 at the door. For reservations, call 919-934-1873.
Drew Jackson; 919-603-4943; @jdrewjackson