Playwright: Gavin Lawrence
At: Chicago Theatre Company at the Noble Fool, 16 W. Randolph St.
Phone: (312) 726-1156; $32-$36
Runs through: May 11
Driving trucks and schlepping heavy cargo, now, THAT's a way for a manly man to make a living—but in a FLOWER SHOP, for chrissakes? No wonder the banter of this posy emporium's receiving crew—square Kyle, priapal Ronnie, juicehead Paul, street-punk Brian, afrocentric Kevin and henpecked Mark—reflects the chest-beating braggadocio underlying male conversation in our culture. As their day proceeds, however, the trash-talk gives way to hints of personal hopes, desires and fears: Kyle is waiting for a job promotion, Ronnie's wife is expecting another child, Kevin's intellectual prowess hides his self-perceived inadequacy, Mark tolerates his wife beating up on him—you heard that right—for the sake of his daughter.
These secrets are camouflaged by cheerfully vulgar discussions of bowling scores, crap-game winnings, popular music, which of the deceptively pretty blooms make for stinkier vase-water, whether 'cunnilingus' is a dirtier expression than 'licking the kitty' and why Black men are so damned reluctant to admit to practicing either. Conflicts simmering so close to the surface inevitably come to a boil, however, with each man confronting the sacrifices he is willing to endure in pursuit of making a better world for himself and his loved ones.
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Author Gavin Lawrence lays out his arguments in a concise, insightful and acutely articulate text whose symposial structure is detectable only in retrospect, thanks to director Douglas Alan-Mann and the original cast from the Chicago Theatre Company's runaway hit production (now transplanted to the Noble Fool mainstage). The reconfiguration to the Fool's shallow playing space makes for some tight quarters, but an outstanding ensemble keeps the stage picture mobile and the dialogue colloquial, with Ronnel Taylor's boisterous delta-trill and Anthony Fleming III's oratorical baritone anchoring the spoken-word harmony (and Tiffany Addison's unseen receptionist providing chirpy counterpoint).
Despite the 'sensitive male' stereotype popularized by standups and sitcoms, emotional introspection is still a luxury largely unaffordable by heterosexual males forced to resort to the destructive outlets mandated by outdated social 'tradition.' The men of Cut Flowers might embrace with the awkwardness of dancing bears, but a group hug isn't all that far from a football huddle. Everybody's gotta start somewhere, right?