THE PARADOX OF THE LOTUS by Dorothy Fortenberry mixes humor and drama in world premiere at the Warehouse Theater

“You expose,” continued the old man, “The Lotus Paradox.” Although it lives almost submerged in water, the lotus repels water from its leaves. That’s how it stays dry.

What would it be like to grow up as the son and daughter of a legendary author? What happens when a seminal trilogy of children’s books is the literal foundation of your entire life? And when your mother, the author, based her main character on one sibling while seemingly ignoring the other, can you ever find peace?

These are the raw foundations of Dorothy Fortenberry’s THE LOTUS PARADOX, a comedy drama now making its world premiere in Greenville, SC’s Warehouse Theatre. Addressing toxic family dynamics, global warming, personal/professional legacies, fan culture, and the writing process itself, the play weaves all of this and more into a layered, entertaining story about the stories we we tell.

Rebecca Koon stars as Nora, the author in question, whose Lotus paradox The trilogy is now 25 years old. Her young editor, Garrett (DeBryant Johnson), has just arrived at Nora’s to help celebrate the anniversary. Also present are Nora’s two adult children, Hal (Jason D. Johnson) and Dealie (Amanda Sox), who have chosen to honor this 25th anniversary in their own way. Dealie brought Nora a homemade sculpture made from twigs and wires and some items found around the house. Hal created a thermos of Irish coffee. For himself. Without using coffee.

Into this nest of personalities comes Julia (Dayanari Umana), a 17-year-old superfan who arrives, wet and uninvited, at their doorstep. Julia is a seasoned social media user with one wish: to meet and hang out with her favorite author.

As the evening progresses, tempers heat up, choices are questioned, secrets are revealed and hot chocolate is consumed. And some – maybe even all five – of these people come to understand each other a little better. Then again, as Hal reminds us early on, genies are kinda dumb.

Fortenberry’s storyline feels extremely timely, part of an ongoing cultural conversation with other recent works that explore the creative process and whether writers have responsibilities to the real people who inspire their stories – from John Boyne’s Ladder to the Sky and Jean Hanff Korelitz’s bestseller The Plot to Robert Kolker’s viral NYTimes Magazine article on the Bad Art Friend vs. Cat Person controversy. But alongside that, THE LOTUS PARADOX encompasses politics (“Has your podcast saved America?”) and aging (“Confusion is the secret weapon of women over sixty”) and current state of fandom (“NoraTennantFanclub hashtag”).

Then there are the mental health aspects of the show. Identity issues. Confidence. Belonging. Put yourself above the family. And if all of that sounds like too much to cram into one room, don’t worry, because it’s not. Fortenberry deftly brings it all together in a funny and moving look at the sometimes tortured way people choose to interact with each other.

Director Jay Briggs keeps the relationships between the characters in focus, using levels from Kristina White’s set to wonderful effect. It is a family cut into three parts, just like the three levels of the decor, each reflecting a volume of the trilogy. It’s brilliant set design that really needs to be seen to be fully appreciated.

Like Nora, the matriarch, Rebecca Koon is calm (sometimes too calm) and suspicious. You’re never quite sure if Nora is all there, how much of her cold, detached presence is age, and how much is reckoning. And Koon always delivers the laughs on understated lines like “I had to choose between being nice and being alive. I went with alive.”

Jason D. Johnson’s Hal is a bubbling ball of resentment, repeatedly triggered during the proceedings. Balancing it is Amanda Sox as the sweet and dedicated Dealie. Together, they really carry the emotional weight of the show. As for the two strangers in the middle, DeBryant Johnson brings a snarky seriousness to the role of Garrett, Nora’s rep at the publishing house. And Dayanari Umana bursts onto the scene with perfect youthful enthusiasm, later demonstrating his own wariness as his inner motivations shift and evolve.

The show lasts just under two hours, with no intermission. But for me, I never needed to take a break. Caught up in this maze of characters, I found myself always wanting to know where the play was going, wanting to see if my suspicions were correct. And I wondered if this family would ever come to peace.

On the opening night, Warehouse Theater Production Artistic Director Mike Sablone delivered a moving speech, acknowledging the cast and crew, the difficult circumstances surrounding the production of the play, and the happy coincidence of snow showers occurring outside just as he spoke. It was a great way to bring this brand new piece to life.


THE LOTUS PARADOX

21 JANUARY – 6 FEBRUARY 2022

WORLD PREMIERE OF DOROTHY FORTENBERRY
DIRECTED BY JAY BRIGGS

Warehouse Theater, 37 Augusta Street, Greenville, SC 29601

For tickets and times, call the box office at 864.235.6948 or visit warehousetheatre.com

Photo credit: B Strife

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