Flowers for Algernon

If you could boost your intelligence to genius level and beyond – would you? What price would you pay? It’s a question Charlie Gordon readily answers yes, even though the real price of that radical change is utterly unknown and possibly dangerous.

Charlie’s story is the focus of the daring science fiction novel “Flowers for Algernon,” and presents great challenges and rewards in the stage version which will open the 2020 Season for the Theatre Guild and launch their 86th season of shows for two weekends beginning March 6 at Rose Center.

Written by Daniel Keyes and first published the short story in 1959 and received the prestigious Hugo and Nebula awards, the highest honors in the science fiction field. Keyes continued to develop the story and published a novel version in 1966, also earning a best novel Nebula award.

“Flowers for Algernon” has continued to have a powerful impact on readers and fans ever since; the kind of story a reader never forgets.

The 1968 film version, “Charly”, earned actor Cliff Robertson the Oscar for Best Actor for his performance as the troubled protagonist.

The director for Theatre Guild’s production is Joe Powell, whose work has included many Guild productions, most recently in 2019 as director of the Guild’s “Alice in Wonderland” and as co-director of “The Good Doctor.”

He has also worked for many years with the Rose Center Summer Players program, director for Lincoln Memorial University, and in theatre education programs for WSCC and Rose Center.

“It’s an incredible experience to stage scripts taken from the books and stories which fired my imagination growing up,” Powell said. “I have had the great fortune to do that with books ranging from “Winnie the Pooh” and “Alice in Wonderland” to “The Three Musketeers” and “Bridge to Terabithia”. So often the stories and books from fantasy or science fiction are really about the struggles of ordinary lives, the tragedies and triumphs, and the heroic characters in those stories inspire each of us.”

“Flowers for Algernon” was read last year by the Guild’s monthly Play Reading Society. Newcomers to Theatre and longtime performers gather on the last Wednesday of each month at the Morristown-Hamblen Library to read new scripts, classic scripts and scripts from many genres and styles.

Guild Creative Advisor David Horton who runs the program said the response to “Algernon” was very strong and actors were eager to stage the play in full.

“Charlie, when we first meet him is a very happy man, even though he has an IQ of only 68. He works in a donut shop doing deliveries and janitorial work, and has started taking adult education classes,” said Powell. “His family long ago disowned him but he has little memory of them or his childhood. His teacher, Alice Kinnian, learns of a daring experimental program to boost intelligence and she recommends him to this new program. Algernon is a mouse who has undergone the treatment and has become a very smart creature, and Charlie realizes their fates are one and the same.

Things escalate when Algernon begins showing signs of regression, losing what he had learned and Charlie must race against time to save both of them.”

The story stirred attention on how our society deals with – or does not deal – with those who are mentally challenged. While great strides have been made to achieve acceptance for those so challenged, Charlie’s story takes place in a time when ridicule is more prevalent.

Author Daniel Keyes was working in special education classes at the time he wrote the story.

“What Charlie is experiencing is exactly what each one of us experiences.” Powell said. “We all are on a journey through life, learning to read and write, to grow and gain what wisdom we can, and find love and happiness. And as we age, the things we have start to slip away, our past selves and memories become hazy or lost. But while it is a lifetime for us, Charlie undergoes all these things and more in a matter of weeks and months.”

Performances will be at Rose Center March 6, 7, 13 and 14 at 8 pm and matinees March 8 and 15 at 3 pm. For more information or tickets, please contact the Guild at 423-586-9260 or at the Guild’s website, theatreguildinc.org.