The Flora and Fauna – a world premiere

Poster for The Flora and Fauna. (Used by permission of The Bridge Initiative.)
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This past weekend, The Bridge Initiative, in partnership with the Arizona Coalition to End Sexual and Domestic Violence (ACESDV) hosted the world premiere of The Flora and Fauna. The Flora and Fauna is a serious and topical script by the late activist and playwright Alyson Mead. It chronicles (in reverse!) the growing friendship between two very different women who are brought together by the pain of one, and ultimately separated by the pain of the other.

The first meeting between Adele and Ginnie is the catalyst for their 20-year friendship. (Photo credit: Jason Walz)

We are first introduced to best friends Ginnie (Christina Sbraccia) and Adele (Erin Buvala-Benites) at a point in their relationship that unmistakably imprints upon us their mutual devotion. A simple flip chart at the side of the stage says “2020”. This flip chart becomes an important plot device as, a short time later, the stage goes dark, the scene changes, and a page of the chart is flipped back. The date has changed to “2017”. It takes a few moments to reorient ourselves before quickly realizing that this will be a continuous journey backwards in time. As the play progresses and the flip chart regresses, one question is answered over and over: “What has led us to this moment?”

Ginnie in emotional crisis is defused by Adele. (Photo credit: Jason Walz)

Erin Buvala-Benites, as Adele, is a levelheaded and practical nurse; the rational half of this pair. She is flippantly funny, having seen far too much pain in her profession to be capable of operating in any other frame of mind. Pain, anguish, and death are no strangers to her. Relatively speaking, her own physical and emotional frailties are easily manageable aspects of her own difficult life.

Christina Sbraccia, as Ginnie, is a woman who, over time, has become comfortable with herself and the ups and downs of her young life. This is not without its challenges and, indeed, as we move backward through the years, Sbraccia’s Ginnie turns out to be representative of some of society’s most vulnerable members. The horrific events that are the bases for the lasting bond between Ginnie and Adele are not only true to life, but are all too prevalent. That Ginnie has found Adele (and vice versa) is a stroke of good fortune that could easily be underappreciated over the course of the twenty some odd years that transpire on stage between strategically placed temporal leaps.

Early in their relationship, Adele’s first glimpse of Ginnie’s newborn baby. (Photo credit: Jason Walz)

The interaction between these two characters is mesmerizing. Buvala-Benites’ deadpan Adele and Sbraccia’s ebullient Ginnie seem like polar opposites on the surface of it, until we realize that these two fit together like irregular but matching pieces of the same jigsaw puzzle. The crisp, natural dialog goes a long way to keep their interaction realistic but meaningful. A few words say a lot. These two use the sparse stage as if it was filled with items of personal significance. They use each other in the same way. We believe that they love each other, no matter what; that they trust each other, and depend on each other like no one else in the world. Our highest praise goes to the writer’s dialog and to the execution of the same by the performers.

It’s Ginnie’s turn to cheer up Adele, who reluctantly acknowledges her own birthday. (Photo credit: Jason Walz)

First-time director, Shonda Royall, treats the subject matter with respect, discretion, and artistic integrity. Heart-rending scenes of the aftermath of rape and the surrender to death are depicted both metaphorically and authentically, using the three-dimensional space of the stage to expose the intimacy of these acts. At some points, the simple set becomes an artistic tableau that evokes both dignity and disgrace. Indeed, the very method of transition between scenes has a certain metaphysical quality, punctuated by atonal music played in reverse.

Ginnie submits to a sexual assault forensic exam. Played out in a sensitive, poignant, yet non-graphic way. (Photo credit: Jason Walz)

The play’s author, Alyson Mead, died in 2020, from an illness that she chose to deal with privately. She was an activist who championed those neglected by society: abused women, young people of color, and the LGBT community, to name a few. Her writings threw light on subjects that might otherwise be kept in the dark.

Ginnie comforts Adele while grappling with a difficult choice. (Photo credit: Jason Walz)

The venue for this premiere performance of The Flora and Fauna is the Tempe Center for the Arts (TCA), in Tempe, AZ. The Center hosts a variety of unique events and art installations in this modern facility, overlooking Tempe Town Lake. The smaller of its two stages, the Studio, is a 220-seat space that is perfect for the intimate, black box format of this two-character performance. This was a very short run of just this past weekend, but the play itself is expected to find other venues both locally and across the country, and would be worthwhile for you to check out. 

About Joe Gruberman 45 Articles
I'm a writer/producer/filmmaker/teacher based in Phoenix, AZ.

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