Making the private public

Flower Shop Project’s new play features revealing tales from a women’s restroom

The Flower Shop Project is a small, Southwest nonprofit theater troupe that formed in 2004 to encourage emerging artists.

There are five core members plus others who contribute financially and artistically to the cause. Many of those involved in the Flower Shop are new to the local theater scene.

The project's play, &#8220Preferred By Discreet Women Everywhere,” is a debut piece by playwright Ruth Virkus, a Flower Shop member whose day job involves administrative work at an area real estate and property management company.

Her hour-and-a-half drama opens with a scene featuring Mary, a TV news reporter played by Melanie Kim, who has been &#8220outwardly and palpably successful,” as Virkus put it. Here though, a not-so-confident Mary slinks slyly into the ladies room after spotting an ex-lover who's dining at a nearby table in the restaurant.

The set is furnished with stark plumbing fixtures, including a pedestal sink and dark-painted stalls that are angled toward the audience so theatergoers feel like they're inside the restroom eavesdropping, explained set designer Justin Latt - who is also the Flower Shop's marketer and treasurer.

Rising action

Held hostage by her anxiety, Mary lingers in the restroom even though her blind date waits for her back at their table. Next enters Lauren, who happens to be a high school acquaintance she hasn't bumped into in about a decade.

Unlike Mary, Lauren's personal choices have less to do with career ambitions and more to do with family matters. She married at an early age, has two children and lives in the suburbs.

Amanda Hofman-Frethem, who portrays Lauren, said it's a challenge to step into her onstage altar ego. One of the only things they have in common is a passion for scrapbooking, Hofman-Frethem said, whose blond hair is streaked with pink.

Lauren's sister-in-law, Siobhan, joins them in the bathroom. Siobhan has been through rehab, served jail time and is an alcoholic.

Lacey Piotter, who plays Siobhan, described her character during a Wednesday evening rehearsal at the Longfellow neighborhood's Epworth Church.

&#8220She's disinterested in other people until she realizes how invested she is in these relationships. She's been all over in a childish, emo way. It's fun indulging in that part of me because realistically, society won't allow it,” she said.

Throughout the play, however, Siobhan's sarcasm provides comic relief. In the end, &#8220You'll be surprised who you sympathize with,” said Piotter.

When Lauren introduces Mary and Siobhan, she raves about the anchorwoman to Siobhan. Lauren claims that Mary's on-air personality is so enjoyable that her husband (who's sitting in the restaurant) has a crush on the reporter.

The compliments have the opposite effect than what Lauren expected. Later, Mary's deserted date knocks on the bathroom door to inquire as to her whereabouts. She's been missing for a long time. So long, that he's asked the waiter to box up her cold food. &#8220I know you're in there!” he yelps.

Still, Mary and the other two women who basically take turns in the bathroom from then on, have reason to stay put. As their conversation intensifies, it's punctuated by the sounds of other women coming in and out the door, water rushing out of the faucets and flushing toilets.

Despite the distinct traits of each woman, they all reflect various aspects of the playwright. Virkus said, &#8220They were fully formed when they came to me. It came from a natural place.”

If the play has an overriding message, it's &#8220about choices and who ultimately has to be responsible for them,” she said.

The crew

The Flower Shop Project is a labor of love. The company's founders first met as theater students at the University of Minnesota in Morris. They lived in the same off-campus apartment building that also housed a floral shop, hence, the company's namesake.

Each member has other full-time commitments. They perform a variety of roles within the company, too. The budget is small. Actors are paid a stipend of $50 to $100 for an entire show's run (including five weeks of daily rehearsals). Ticket prices of $12-$15 barely cover expenses for the next show.

The Flower Shop Project stages two to three new plays a year in a miscellaneous roster that features everything from musicals to serious dramas. They emphasize original, offbeat works that incorporate elements of local culture into the mix as one way to make theater accessible, explained Flower Shop Artistic Director Beth Hummel.

They're interested in scripts that present novel ideas or a new approach to what's already been done. One of the advantages of being such a small company is being able to take risks. In contrast to larger theater companies that have a narrower focus, &#8220We're willing to stand out on the ledge and see what happens,” she said.

Previous Flower Shop productions include such creative works as &#8220Attack of the Atomic Trash Monster's Bride,” a play that satirized horror movies and the atomic age; &#8220Dawn's Inferno,” an adaptation of &#8220Dante's Inferno” set at a class reunion; and &#8220Auld Acquaintance,” a piece about a New Year's Eve party disaster.

&#8220We hope to give people who may not feel part of something that's already happening [in local theater] the opportunity to be part of something new,” Hummel said.

Contributing writer Anna Pratt is a Minneapolis-based freelancer writer.