Prospect Theater Company’s The Blue Flower has as its seed a promising idea: Haunted by World War I, a Berlin artist named Max moves to New York, where, neither clinging to German nor attempting English, he inexplicably speaks a language of his own invention. “Maxperanto,” as he calls it, sounds like a mélange of Russian, Italian, and—to judge from its explosive consonants—the African tongue of !Kung. “Bungled,” for example, translates as “boongala boongala.” Actor Marcus Neville delivers his incomprehensible lines with
utterly convincing gravity, sweetness, or fury, as the occasion demands.
If Jim and Ruth Bauer’s play about the physical and emotional journeys endured in wartime focused seriously on Maxperanto and the psychology of the man compelled to create it, The Blue Flower might, well, blossom. Instead, the production—which features live musicians and supporting film projections—ushers us back in time to Europe, where we follow Max through his mildly absorbing youth. As a medic serving in the war, he traumatically loses his best friend; Max’s shell shock marks one of the few genuinely moving elements of the European section of the story. Otherwise, this lengthy part of the play seems familiar, and the frequent songs, while zestily performed, feel pedestrian (not even Emily Dickinson would have rhymed “puke” with “news”). When we finally return to Max in America, he almost immediately croaks. Were he still with us, he might chirp what we’re thinking about our evening with him: “Boongala boongala.”