Most couples expect to find their vows tested at some point in a marriage. But on their wedding day? That’s the fraught situation for a pair of newlyweds in Yellow Tree Theatre’s “Flowers for the Room,” when a post-wedding accident puts a bleak spotlight on the phrase “in sickness and in health.”
Written by Yellow Tree co-founder Jessica Lind Peterson, with music and lyrics by Blake Thomas, this new musical opens on a charming nuptial scene. Zachary Stofer is Jake, the groom who surprises his new wife, Allison (played by Peterson), with a sweetly goofy and achingly heartfelt song he’s written for her.
Mere moments later, happily ever after transitions to a car accident that lands Allison in the ICU in a deep coma. What follows is a waiting game to see if she will regain consciousness.
Peterson is a deft writer (her earlier “String” was a runner-up for the Mark Twain Prize for comic playwriting) but she’s set herself a challenge in creating a work that exists in limbo. Since none of her characters can move forward, she piles on the back stories.
Allison alternately eavesdrops on the edges of scenes, wanders a sterile “waiting room” or perches in a chair elevated over the stage. Meanwhile, Jake sits beside her empty bed, sharing his fears about their future. We learn through a flashback that before their marriage they struggled to align their goals in life, her free-spirited artist’s sensibility clashing with his more pragmatic approach.
Then there’s Jake’s brother (Daniel S. Hines), a pastor who’s not only a recovering alcoholic but also a part-time professional wrestler sporting the moniker “The Rev.” Allison’s nurse (Kendall Ann Thompson) is a single mom who leads goat yoga classes and may or may not be putting the moves on Jake. Norah Long sparkles as a snarky, profane and occasionally pot-smoking social worker who doles out sympathy and cynicism in equal measure.
The acting is uniformly strong, but the multiplicity of meandering story lines diffuses the play’s focus. At the same time, neither Peterson’s script nor Thomas’ musical numbers ever really establish an authentic sense of these characters’ suffering, substituting platitudes (“life is hard”; “letting go is not giving up”) for raw feeling.
“Flowers for the Room” offers plenty of potential and some nice moments, but the play’s many tangents never satisfactorily mesh. At one point, Allison delivers a lengthy speech about color theory. There’s a sense that the playwright is grasping for profundity here, but the audience is left agreeing with the social worker, who responds flatly: “I have no idea what that means.”
Lisa Brock is a Twin Cities critic.