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Flowers for Algernon - Thomas Edison High School - Alexandria, Virginia - November 11, 2016

Shanthi Gnanasekaran

Bishop Ireton High School

In recent times, the term “retarded” has become a strict taboo, and rightfully so, due to its detrimental manner of describing individuals with mental disabilities. But how can a word that was intended to be perceived primarily as a medical term have evolved into the offensive expression it is today? The answer, not easily discovered, is as black and white as an ink blot on a white card. However, one of the main reasons for this derogatory evolution is man’s indiscretion toward the mentally disabled throughout history. This indiscretion is tackled by Thomas A. Edison High School’s production of Flowers for Algernon.

The full-length play, Flowers for Algernon, by David Rogers, is based on a novel of the same name, written by Daniel Keyes. The story takes place in the 1960s, and describes Charlie Gordon’s experience as the first human subject in an experimental operation to improve mental capacity. Though scientists had exceptional success in completing the experiment on a rat named Algernon, the human test called for considerable risk. The procedure goes well beyond expectations, and Charlie’s intellect begins to rapidly exceed the levels of intelligence in a normal human. However, consequence overrules benefit, and both Algernon and Charlie must learn to accept that having a high IQ does not garner the most happiness and success in life.

In a stark transition from a mentally disabled man with an IQ of 68 to an incredibly astute figure in society, Nicholas Riehle portrayed Charlie Gordon with the utmost of precision and finesse. Riehle artfully performed Charlie’s transition, gradually changing his vocal style and mannerisms to fit the intelligence Charlie experienced during the show. Riehle flawlessly executed the portrayal of Charlie’s mentally disabled phase, respectfully constructing a lovable, naïve, playful character that captured the hearts of the audience for the entire show. Also notable were the performances of Maggie Landis as Mrs. Mooney and Kyle Pinkney as Teen-Age Charlie. With a sweet Southern twang and an amusing busybody attitude, Landis truly brought forth the warm hospitality characterized by the South, and brought a sense of comic relief to the plot as Charlie’s motherly landlord. Pinkney brought a powerful presence to the stage, as although he did not utter a single line, his physicality and aura truly embodied the grief of Charlie’s past.

With an incredibly detailed array of props, including a real rat to portray Algernon, the technical aspect of the show was brilliant, with appropriate aging makeup, flawless scene transitions, and original music compositions. Although there were some sound issues, the overall effects of the show were truly brilliant.

Thomas A. Edison High School’s production of Flowers for Algernon was a breathtaking portrayal of a man’s journey to discovering the true meaning of life. 

Kevin McNerney

Bishop Ireton High School

With haunting melodies, disturbing flashbacks, and ghostly silhouettes, Thomas A. Edison High School presents the harsh realities of life with a mental disability in a unusually moving production of Flowers for Algernon.

Based on the Daniel Keyes novel, Flowers for Algernon is a play by David Rogers that chronicles the life of the mentally disabled Charlie Gordon. Charlie volunteers to be part of an experiment to increase his intelligence, and he soon experiences dramatic intellectual growth. With this increase in intelligence, however, Charlie soon realizes that many people around him treat him badly, and that he is virtually alone in the world. When Algernon, a rat who underwent the same intelligence procedure as Charlie, regresses back to his original intelligence level and subsequently dies, Charlie realizes that effects of the surgery are only temporary. Thomas A. Edison High School admirably tackled this difficult show.

Edison High School’s Flowers for Algernon created a distinct mood from the beginning. With student-composed music, indistinct silhouettes, and living mice, this production was unique and effective. The emotional instability of the characters was evident throughout, and a constant theme of loneliness permeated the entire performance.

Nicholas Riehle (Charlie Gordon) took a particularly challenging role and executed it brilliantly. Displaying a full range of emotions, Riehle evoked sympathy for the misunderstood Charlie. In a role that lends itself to inconsistency, Riehle maintained accurate physicality and voice throughout his performance.

Madison Sterner’s (Alice Kinnian) nurturing presence was a nice compliment to Riehle’s emotional instability. Her honest, loving nature offered a much-needed reprieve from the darker aspects of the show. Kyle Pinkney (Teen-Age Charlie) gave a strong performance for what little stage time he had. His physicality and portrayal of pain caused the audience to visibly shudder out of sympathy. Maggie Landis (Mrs. Mooney) established herself as perhaps the only comic relief when she first came bustling into Charlie’s apartment. From that moment on, her accent and mannerisms kept the audience entertained and engaged. The scientists (Timothy Etter, Max Bertman, and David Leavitt) worked well as a cohesive unit, building off each other’s energy and creating an engaging atmosphere. While the range of emotions for some actors was limited and accents were inconsistent at times, overall, actors maintained high energy throughout.

Use of flashbacks and a student-composed version of Three Blind Mice, created a powerful effect, and allowed the audience to see how much Charlie was being affected by his past. Precise lighting and a unique stage set-up helped speed up many transitions. While there were occasional problems with lighting, the number of light cues and amount of precision that must have been needed more than made up for this issue.

Flowers for Algernon is an intensely difficult show, but Thomas A. Edison was up to the task, and delivered a strong performance.


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