Flowers For Algernon Strikes Familiar, Tragic Chords
I thought of The Notebook, Away From Her, and Still Alice while watching Flowers for Algernon at Richmond Hill Theatre.
Directed by Dana Moss-Peterson, this production evoked memories of those three movies, all Directed by Dana Moss-Peterson, this production evoked memories of those three movies, all about Alzheimer’s patients and their respective spouses making the slow goodbye.
Jonathan Grafft plays Charlie Gordon, a mentally challenged man of about 42 years age. He gets bullied at his job, in a bakery kitchen. But the meanness of the remarks sails over his head.
He takes night classes. His teacher, Alice (Jackie Patterson) is all cold feet when Dr. Strauss (Justin Raver) and Professor Nemur (Tom Morrow) approach her about having Charlie as a pilot candidate for experimental surgery. It could accelerate his intellect to near genius if it is effective.
Charlie consents. He wants to be smart. “If you have this surgery you may find out the world isn’t as nice of a place,” April warns him.
Charlie gets the surgery. In some ways it makes him less fragile. He starts reading books. He gets hired on as staff with his doctor’s pilot study. He doesn’t let people make fun of him. He matches wits with April. He takes her out on a date.
But he’s more fragile too. He’s visited by visions of his younger self (Aiden Grafft, Jonathan’s son.) He has memories of his abusive mom (Lona Friedman), who was white knuckling it with mental illness herself. She was cold towards Charlie, as she had no treatment for her own symptoms. Charlie’s father, played by Don Faust, does love his son. And he does his best to intervene on his son’s behalf when threatened by his mom.
The flashbacks were painful. But effective. They propped up the story. We root for Charlie to confront his mom and show her that he’s healed. No, not intellectually. Emotionally. He has to face her to show her he’s not broken. And himself.
And much like James Garner and Gina Rowlands in The Notebook, or Julie Christie and Gordon Pincent in Away From Her, or Julianne Moore and Alec Baldwin in Still Alice, we are rooting for Charlie to take a chance on romance with his old night school teacher before he loses himself in his condition. As it happens, the mouse, Algernon, progressed and then regressed when administered the same surgery.
I also thought of The Fault in Our Stars. And a couple emotional season 8 episodes of ER, when Dr. Greene was sick. When you find love, time becomes precious. And you do whatever you can to keep the window of opportunity open.
The show runs at 7:30 Thursday through Saturday and 3 p.m. Sunday at the Barn Theater. For more information and to order tickets, see http://rhplayers.com/.