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Citamard’s ‘Ardent Heights of Midnight Flowers’ tells heartwarming story

Katie Pryor
Arts & Culture Editor

Night-blooming cereus, or as they’re often called “midnight flowers,” refer to flowering cacti that only bloom at night. While they only bloom one night a year and only live for about a day, one can still argue that they still serve a purpose. In a student-written play, and the Citamard Players’ first show of the year, “Ardent Heights of Midnight Flowers,” features two half-siblings, one a bitter 22-year-old, the other a bright 19-year-old with Asperger’s, find and give purpose for each other’s lives.

Sarah (Christine Furey, right) screams at her mother Evie (Katie Dobson, left) for leaving her and her father and for neglecting her half-sister Grace (Karissa Montaner).
Sarah (Christine Furey, right) screams at her mother Evie (Katie Dobson, left) for leaving her and her father and for neglecting her half-sister Grace (Karissa Montaner).

The one-act play was directed by Citamard’s secretary Philip Rooney and starred Christine Furey as Sarah, Karissa Montaner as Grace, Katie Dobson as their mother Evie and Alex Arnold as Hugo, Grace’s father. The play opened with Sarah arriving at the home of her estranged mother and her family, as she had arranged to live with them until she starts back at college. Sarah still hasn’t forgiven her mother for leaving her loving yet poor father, and while Evie hopes to set aside their differences, she also lays down some ground rules, includes those concerning her other daughter Grace, whom Sarah had never met or even heard about before. Upon meeting Grace, who has a fascination with sloths and loves to talk about them constantly, Sarah gives her the cold shoulder, sending Grace into a tantrum and making Sarah fully realize Grace’s condition. Over time, the two bond and grow to love each other not just as sisters, but as friends.

Along with acting in the play, Montaner, who acted in Citamard’s productions of “The Vagina Monologues” and “Sordid Lives” last year, also wrote the script. She started writing it in August, after Citamard’s president Meg Danison asked her if she could write something for Citamard in two weeks.

“I was originally thinking of doing something romantic, but then I decided that I wanted to do something different,” said Montaner. “This was going to be Citamard’s first show of the year, so I wanted to write something that told people ‘This is us, this is Citamard; this is what we do’ when they went to go see it.”

Sarah (Christine Furey) and Grace (Karissa Montaner) bond and talk about their interests.
Sarah (Christine Furey) and Grace (Karissa Montaner) bond and talk about their interests.

Inspired by a friend of hers that has Asperger’s, Montaner started researching the disorder. “I realized that there really aren’t a lot of plays or movies about people with autism, and there’s still a lot of people who don’t understand it,” said Montaner. “I didn’t want to just a script where it was like ‘Here’s this girl, she has Asperger’s, here’s the facts.’ I really wanted to write something that was meaningful, create these interesting characters, have these characters bond, and then have one sister change her way of thinking because of the other.”

Writing a one-act script in two weeks is a hard enough feat on its own, but Montaner also had to portray one of her own characters, and one with unique body movements, speech patterns and way of looking at the world at that. “I watched a lot of videos on YouTube about people with autism,” said Montaner. “I really wanted to get their physicalities and mannerisms down. There were even some videos that made me cry.”

Hugo (Alex Arnold) talks about his day at work to his wife, Evie (Katie Dobson).
Hugo (Alex Arnold) talks about his day at work to his wife, Evie (Katie Dobson).

For a one-act play, “Ardent Heights of Midnight Flowers” already deals with plenty of themes such as family, love and infidelity, yet it still has potential to be expanded upon and made into a full, two-act play. “I would love to make a longer version of this,” said Montaner. “There’s still so much that can be done with the characters and the story.”

As for the show itself, it proved to be a success for everyone involved. Rooney as the director was able to bring both emotional and comical moments to almost every scene in the show. While Dobson as the mother trying to reconnect with Sarah and Arnold as Grace’s loving father were both strong, the best part of the play was the dynamic between the two sisters. Between the two, Grace finds someone who listens to her and understands her, and Sarah’s aloofness fades as she’s introduced to a new way of looking at the world and finds someone to not just call a sister, but a friend as well.

For their first show of the year, Citamard presented a heart-warming, thought-provoking play in “Ardent Heights of Midnight Flowers” while also bringing focus and awareness to an often-misunderstood condition.

Citamard Players have a few other events coming up in the next month. Improv Molotov with take place Oct. 2, at 8 p.m. They will be putting on “Tomorrow,” a play written by Millersville student Joe Eck, in the Rafter’s Theatre in Dutcher Hall Oct. 17-18.