McLean High School
Beneath a shattered clock, with its numbers floating against an inky blue sky, a cascade of fluttering papers descends into a world torn between reality and whimsy. Wakefield High School’s production of In the Garden of Live Flowers explored the tangled life of Rachel Carson with stunning visual bursts and emotional maturity.
In the Garden of Live Flowers follows Rachel Carson’s journey to write Silent Spring, including her battles with cancer and the chemical industry. As she approaches death, her childhood hero Alice in Wonderland guides Carson through her intensifying struggles, all the while blurring the divide between fantasy and reality. The production has local roots, as authors Lynne Conner and Attilio Favorini won the 2002 Kennedy Center/ATHE David Mark Cohen National Playwriting Award for the script. Since then, many versions of this piece have been performed across the country.
As the beloved Rachel Carson, Hazel Thurston demonstrated a deep understanding of her character throughout the production. Her versatility was reflected in her ability to both tire with age and exude youthful exuberance during childhood memories. Thurston’s consistency in her strong-willed demeanor and facial expressions gave off the impression that the world was spinning around her. Thurston’s mature acting choices were enhanced by the lovely Danah Alkhafaji, who portrayed Dorothy. Their scenes together were refreshing and vulnerable, with a hint of romantic tension that added some vibrancy to the show.
The ensemble together was cohesive and versatile. A standout performer was Julianna Ditta, who performed with captivating dancing. Retta Laumann’s Marie Rodell was rejuvenating and grounded, and conversely her performance as Sis was hilariously childish. As “Daddy,” Angus Long was skillful in his comedic performance that evoked peals of laughter from the audience. Members of the ensemble demonstrated skill in their portrayal of multiple characters. The insects truly encompassed a bug-like demeanor, most notably the caterpillar who wriggled enthusiastically and spoke with conviction. The Alice in Wonderland characters fully captured the whimsy of wonderland; Alice and the White Rabbit were quirky and consistent in their eccentricities.
The technical elements of the show were equally as captivating as the performances. The sound, executed by Conrad Burns and GG Guajardo, was exceptional. Their sound effects of chirping birds and ocean waves were immersive and yet never overpowered the actors, and their timing perfectly aligned with the action onstage. The lighting was also notably well-executed; their array of different colors adhered to the mood of each scene, and the streaky colorful lights against the backdrop were visually exquisite.
Wakefield High School’s immersive production of In the Garden of Live Flowers encompassed the tangled life of Rachel Carson with a vibrant natural landscape and stirring performances. Their homage to this revered scientist provided a mature outlook on protecting the natural world.
Washington Lee High School
One woman dared to challenge the institutions around her to save the environment and the world. Marine biologist Rachel Carson was a true American hero. Wakefield High School’s production of In the Garden of Live Flowers, a play about Carson’s life and mind, was moving and mature.
In the Garden of Live Flowers, written by Attilio Favorini and Lynne Conner, depicts Carson’s turbulent lifetime. The play weaves seemingly unrelated characters into Rachel Carson’s life and the pandemonium in her brain. Characters from Alice in Wonderland reside inside Carson’s subconscious throughout the show. Through each scene, pesticides are subtly shown to harm all living things.
The execution of this heavy, complicated show was impressive. The cast gracefully handled dark themes of cancer, family relations, and destruction of the environment. All actors put immense passion into their roles. Technical aspects of the show were precise and minimalistic, which allowed for a greater emphasis on the story itself.
Hazel Thurston played the role of Rachel Carson in an appropriately resilient, fierce, and modest way. She seamlessly transitioned between scenes portraying different stages of her life. Rachel Carson and Dorothy’s (Danah Alkhafaji) relationship was portrayed as tender and loving, hinting at romance just enough to captivate the audience.
Most cast members balanced several roles, giving each one equal importance and a different flair. The most entertaining scenes were those with many actors onstage, as their dynamic as an ensemble was flawless. Timing of overlapping lines was well-executed, and movement across the stage was smooth. The show opened with striking, flowing choreography performed by the insect ensemble. They continued to have a presence in the show, representing animals dying from pesticide poison. Another remarkable ensemble was the hiking family. They added humor to the show, especially Daddy (Angus Long) and Brother (Xavier Molina). Some actors drifted in and out of accents, but managed to hold on to their characters’ identities. A great feat of the cast was their ability to project without microphones, which made the scenes more immersive and realistic.
Seamless technical aspects enhanced the mood of every scene. Sound added a great deal to the show, as it was a helpful indicator of setting. The soundtracks of ocean waves crashing presented a beachy atmosphere, for instance, despite the lack of many props. The set was minimalistic and yet telling of Carson’s confused mind. Wire numbers hung from the ceiling. A tide pool filled with real water made the show more immersive. The level of minimalism was high, though, as even eating was pantomimed. However, the actors mimed with gusto, making the absence of props less peculiar. Lighting was brilliant, fitting, and had perfect timing, filling the stage with dramatic crimson shades as soon as the Red Queen entered. Cold, sterile blues and greens were used for the hospital scenes. In addition, the costumes portrayed each animal well while being understated.
When Rachel Carson passed away, the world lost a great mind and catalyst for worldwide change. This production reminded everyone of her spirit, passion, and triumphs. Wakefield has succeeded in conveying the significance of Carson’s heroism.