Skip to main content
theatre review
  • Title: bloom
  • Written by: Guillermo Verdecchia
  • Genre: Drama
  • Director: Soheil Parsa
  • Actors: Peter Farbridge, Liz Peterson, Kim Nelson
  • Company: Modern Times Stage Company
  • Venue: Buddies in Bad Times
  • City: Toronto
  • Year: 2018


1.5 out of 4 stars

As Guillermo Verdecchia’s play bloom begins, a man and a boy are found in a bunker of some sort, in a future where nothing grows and fighter jets drop fire from above. “There’s nothing to be done, except to wait,” says the man, whose name is Gerontion, and calls their surroundings “rat’s alley.”

The bunker is lined with overflowing bookshelves – and these literary surroundings seem to have seeped into the very blood of Verdecchia’s play.

Gerontion gets his name from the T.S. Eliot poem of the same name, and “rat’s alley” comes from Eliot’s The Waste Land. Many nods to others titans of modernism are still to come – whether references to Yeats’s The Second Coming, or dialogue and situations ripped from Beckett’s Waiting for Godot and Endgame. The title bloom itself brings to mind Joyce’s Ulysses protagonist and, in its irritating lack of capitalization, e.e. cummings.

Verdecchia’s play comes by its derivativeness honestly, at least. Premiered in 2006 by Modern Times Stage Company, bloom – which is now being revived by the same company in Toronto – was originally intended to be an adaptation of The Waste Land, but permission was withheld and instead the playwright wrote a play inspired by it.

And, so, like Eliot’s poem, bloom is dense with allusions – here’s Beowulf, there’s Hamlet, now let’s sing the Highland Fairy Lullaby. Scholar Ric Knowles has found “quotations, citations and purposeful distortions” in Verdecchia’s play from a vast array of texts – from Buddha’s Fire Sermon and Dante’s Inferno, to Richard Dawkins and reports from pilots in the 1991 Gulf War.

These mostly bubble up in Gerontion’s over-articulated ramblings and rages, which take up most of this hour-and-a-half play. Peter Farbridge’s performance as this post-apocalyptic professor is impressive in its own affected way. With a scarf jauntily wrapped around his neck, he looks and sounds astonishingly like a dystopian version of Darren Nichols, the pretentious theatre director that Don McKellar played on Slings and Arrows. It’s not clear, however, to what point we are supposed to view Gerontion as an irritating pseud who, if you met at a party rather than in the theatre, you’d be desperately trying to get out of a conversation with.

Opposite Farbridge, Liz Peterson has very little to play with as the unnamed amnesiac boy who keeps imploring Gerontion to tell the story of how he arrived wherever they are. For unclear reasons, he speaks in sentence fragments like an unfrozen caveman or the garbage people on The Walking Dead. Kim Nelson rounds out the cast playing Marie, a woman who appears to Gerontion in hallucinations and memories.

Soheil Parsa’s production, his second kick at the play, is often striking visually – and Anahita Dehbonehie’s design has plenty of surprises that are slowly unveiled.

While bloom is very literary, however, it’s not very dramatic. There’s little to grab on to as a viewer in the relationships between Gerontion and a character who doesn’t know who he is, or Gerontion and a character who doesn’t really seem to exist. Gerontion himself is a pain in the neck (albeit a poetic one). Whatever the play is trying to say about war obviously speaks deeply to Parsa, but it was too vague and artificial to mean much to me. (Though occasionally, Verdecchia suddenly goes specific – name-dropping Kandahar or, particularly out of the blue, the agricultural corporation Monsanto.)

Other playwrights of Verdecchia’s generation, such as Sarah Kane, have rooted through the dustbin of modernism to bring something new to the stage. But while Kane’s play Crave, for instance, makes allusions to Eliot and Beckett and feels utterly its own, bloom comes across as tedious fan fiction, or perhaps a Ready Player One for English-lit majors.

Follow related authors and topics

Authors and topics you follow will be added to your personal news feed in Following.

Interact with The Globe