Role Playing: Adam Bitterman, unlikely florist in ‘Seedbed,’ dug deep to create a rare bloom
Interview: For Bryan Delaney’s searing play at Redtwist, actor says he imagined backstory to explain his rough-cut vendor of flowers.
By Lawrence B. Johnson
Adam Bitterman’s earthy and lusty and sometimes unnerving performance as the improbable florist Mick, a middle-aged guy enamored of an 18-year-old girl in Bryan Delaney’s “The Seedbed” at Redtwist Theatre, defies you to take your eyes off him. But the veteran actor had his doubts about even taking on the prodigious part, and this elusive character.
“When I read the play, it sort of puzzled me that Mick’s a florist,” says Bitterman. “That didn’t seem like me. But he’s not what you would call a typical florist. The first thing that came to mind was that, regardless of where he is now in life, this clearly was not his first career, and not necessarily his favorite. Yet for one reason or another that we never figure out, he ended up here.”
Here, indeed. Here, if you want to get right down to the dramatic instance, is the home that Mick’s girlfriend Maggie (Abby Dillion) has recently fled – for reasons that are sifted through several filters as the play unfolds. Had Maggie and her step-father Thomas (Mark Pracht) become lovers? Did the girl’s mother Hannah (Jacqueline Grandt) push her out?
Has Mick been played by a pretty girl? Is anyone in this bizarre household capable of telling the truth?
Mick, a Londoner by birth who’s maybe fiftysomething, lives and works in Amsterdam. That’s where, under the most extreme circumstances, he met the Irish lass Maggie. Now she’s brought him home to Ireland to meet the parents – and to announce their impending marriage. Mick tries from hello to show Maggie’s folks that he genuinely loves her. Mom and Dad are not happy, but we soon discover the tangled roots of their discontent run deeper than this dubious news.
In making Mick’s way through this familial thicket, Bitterman got key assists from director Steve Scott and the playwright himself, Bryan Delaney, who was on hand through the rehearsal process and into the first performances.
“It was important to Bryan to differentiate between working-class Mick and this middle-class, even upper-middle-class family,” says Bitterman. “It’s clear to me that Mick has had a rough life, that he has overcome some hurdles. Bryan and I talked about how he probably grew up in rough company. Maybe he had to flee from England.
“Mick has reached a certain level of comfort. He has some money, and he likes to bet on the horses, which can lead you down a path of speculation about his beginnings. He values honesty. He brings up over and over how important that is to him. His relationship with Maggie all boils down to what’s honest. So when he begins to sense he’s being lied to, we see him regress and shed the trappings of civility. Maybe he’s reverting to who he once was.”
By no means, however, were Mick’s complex issues a mere speculative exercise for Bitterman. Mick grapples with his volatile situation in copious dialogue. It’s a huge part, and Bitterman makes no bones about the scale of that challenge.
“I’ve done roles with a lot dialogue before,” he says, “but I don’t think I ever had to learn as much dialogue as this. It’s no exaggeration to say I was terrified. But I also found a lot of support from friends and co-workers from the past. We had a short rehearsal process, and Steve was very generous and understanding. When we were about to go off book, I told him I didn’t know if I was a hundred percent ready. He said just do the best you can. That gave me the freedom to not be worried about it.”
His lines were not Bitterman’s only cause for anxiety. A compact, muscular actor, he was concerned at the start about squaring up with the physically more imposing Mark Pracht as Maggie’s father, in scenes where the two men verge on fighting. But playwright Delaney saw no problem.
“Bryan told me that I look like a boxer, which he considered appropriate for Mick,” the actor recalls. “But what really made it work was the sleeveless T-shirt that (the director) and the costume designer (Cassandra Bowers) came up with in dress rehearsal.”
Near the end of the play, Mick challenges the bigger Thomas. At that moment, in Bitterman’s fiery delivery and coiled posture, we sense a primordial fury that’s just about to explode through the last threads of civilizing restraint. Your money is on Mick.
Still, through it all, this “tame beast” (as Bitterman calls his character) wants desperately to see truth confirmed in Maggie’s protestations of love for him.
“Why is Mick involved with this young girl?” asks Bitterman. “Bryan and I spent a lot of time on that question. I think this older man sees Maggie – he calls her the most beautiful thing he’s ever seen – as his last shot at finding love. That’s why he’s so willing to give her every benefit of doubt.
“During rehearsals, what kept coming back to me was the idea that love doesn’t know age. When you make that connection, everything else seems to fall by the wayside. For Mick, the age difference doesn’t mean as much as the bond he feels. One could question, if the complicating events of the play didn’t happen, would Mick and Maggie last? Is it deep love or a lark? I don’t know the answer.”
- Review of ‘The Seedbed’: Read it at ChicagoOntheAisle.com
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