Tommy Flowers (David Gow) sits in the first class cabin of a Miami-New York flight sipping Champagne and wooing the attendant (Noelle Franco) who pours it. “You’ve got great legs. Are they as nice all the way up?” he says, too loud and inappropriate for first class etiquette—the first giveaway that perhaps he hasn’t made it here via a regular path. Minutes later, Tommy reveals his game. “You know how to get yourself into the first class, right? You hang out near the gates where they keep the stack of first class boarding passes long enough to grab one.”
This auspicious opening immediately pins Tommy Flowers onto a historical timeline, back in the pre-electronic era. It’s wonderfully nostalgic. Remember the days when the term “unplugging” referred to a hairdryer or a fridge—rather than to a human with a social media overload? Yes, Tommy is still in those blissfully old-fashioned days when passenger check-in wasn’t done via smartphones, but by an airline clerk, who manually filled out a piece of paper. Today, Tommy’s paper trick—as well as many of his other acts, conjured up and written by Tony Award-winner Terrence McNally—simply wouldn’t work.
But in old-time New York they do, at least for a while. And so the brave and defiant Miami native arrives in New York to conquer the big city—in his own way.
Once the romance with the flight attendant withers, Tommy ends up on the street, not flustered in the least. He asks for money, fights with a destitute old actor, Ben Delight (Daniel O-Shea), for a lucrative panhandling corner, makes best friends with an oversized sheep dog, Arnold (Sam Garber), and generally has fun. He’s a floater who can be both mean and friendly, offensive and affectionate, annoying and funny. He’s a slacker who wants “to do everything” but does nothing—except rebel against the established societal rules. But despite the bravado, there are skeletons in Tommy’s closet—sickly parents, a married but lonely brother, a former girlfriend, being unhappily stuck in Florida’s boredom, and surviving a car crash that killed his friend. Inside Tommy’s red bag that contains his life possessions, strange items are hidden: a bomb-making manual along with a clock, wires, and some spare parts.
A series of skits and vignettes, under the guidance of director Laura Braza, and produced by Gow, take us through Tommy’s Big Apple roller coaster of highs and lows. In a moment of generosity, Tommy takes Ben to shop (or rather shoplift) at Bloomingdales. There, in the fashionable store’s ladies room, he meets his next passion—Nedda Lemon (Emma Geer), a talented music student who has veered off the right path, and stashed a few camisoles into her violin case. Despite her initial anger directed at Tommy, she eventually gives into his charm, and the two realize they’re quite a pair. After a freaked out customer (Emily Kitchens) calls security, Nedda helps Tommy escape the ladies room disguised as a nun.
The romance blossoms as the two lovebirds join forces against the world—shoplifting, beating checks and stealing ketchup bottles from restaurants. Tommy, Arnold, and Ben move into Nedda’s apartment. Here’s when nostalgia really hits. Oh, the blissful times when a struggling music student could afford a New York City apartment large enough to house an oversized sheep dog, plus a hallway with a couch for Ben to sleep on. Uber, security cameras, and delivery apps have since made it impossible to stiff a cheating cabbie or not pay for your dinner.
But the time is ticking for Tommy. You can only get away with things for so long—plus mistakes can be costly. And as the clouds begin to thicken over his head, the bomb parts in his bag may become an appealing option. Will he ultimately follow the steps of the dangerous manual? It is here when McNally’s decades old play suddenly leaps from the amusing past into an unsettling present. It’s not the first time a rebellious outcast would blow himself up to make his statement. It’s also not the last. So where has Tommy Flowers gone? Will he be part of the statistics that now rock the world with depressing regularity, or will he somehow manage to cheat his fate once again?
Photos by Daniel Davila
Top photo:Emma Geer and David Gow
Where Has Tommy Flowers Gone?
By Terrence McNally
Directed by Laura Braza
The Workshop Theater
312 W 36th Street, Fourth Floor