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Plot contrivances and unbelievable characterizations undermine this tale of summertime romance.

Ron Cephas Jones and Jake O'Connor
in Wildflower
(© Joan Marcus)
Playwright Lila Rose Kaplan's heavy hand is ever-present in Wildflower, now at the McGinn/Cazale as part of Second Stage Theatre's Uptown Series. Nothing in this play about summertime love and teens coming-of-age happens because of human nature or psychology; instead, characters act in ways that are expedient for moving the piece's contrived plot forward.

The work centers on Erica (Nadia Bowers), who is recently separated from her husband and has moved with her introverted, and seemingly ADD, teenage son Randolph (played with a combination of agitation and ugly sullenness by Jake O'Connor) to a small town in Colorado, where an annual wildflower festival is big business. She arrives only with reservations at a local inn that's run by Mitchell (the gently affecting Ron Cephas Jones), a charmingly empathetic gay man. A job at the local general store --- of which Erica has providentially learned just as she arrives -- proves to be the way that she supports herself and Randolph.

If Erica's slapdash escape from her marriage (prompted by her botanist husband's workaholism and possible anger issues) doesn't strain credulity enough, the ad that Erica conveniently produces upon her arrival at the inn does. Where did she get it? She and Randolph haven't even checked in, and yet, she's somehow got this small slip of paper that turns out to be her lifeline.

Contrivances mount as Erica falls for strutting forest ranger James (Quincy Dunn-Baker), a womanizer with a bad attitude, and Randolph finds himself being drawn to, or, more precisely, reeled in by, Astor (a winning Renée Felice Smith), the intellectually and sexually precocious teen who's in charge at the store where Erica lands the job. Astor's position of authority is explained by the fact that her grandmother, who owns the business, has to inexplicably tend to Astor's institutionalized mother.

Theatergoers' patience with such machinations in the plot is only shortened by the ways in which Kaplan contorts the characters' behavior. James, whose homophobic baiting of Mitchell borders on assault, demonstrates a vulnerable and sensitive side at moments that can only be described as dramatically expeditious. Randolph, who's characterized as having an above-average IQ, never really exhibits any sort of true intelligence, or even common sense. When he turns to Mitchell for guidance about sex, he seems not so much naively innocent about the awkward position into which he's placing the older man as callously teasing. Further, Randolph's actions that lead to the play's denouement are simply ludicrous.

Steven C. Kemp's economical scenic design, which handsomely indicates the inn's front porch and common area as well as the interior of the general store, allows director Giovanna Sardelli to give the episodic play a swift, fluid staging. Kemp's work also allows her to fill the gaps between scenes with tableaux (underscored by Jill DC Du Boff's eclectic and atmospheric soundscape) that are often more enlightening than Kaplan's script. And while the actors give committed performances that navigate the play's twists and turns, their work does not overcome the flaws in Kaplan's ungainly attempt at putting a quirky, edgy spin on stories of summertime romance.