Butterflies are Free

St Jude’s Players Inc. Directed by John Graham. 9 Aug 2012

The play, written by Leonard Gershe, was one of the longest running non-musicals on Broadway and was first performed in 1969. Perhaps it has lost a little something since then? Perhaps audiences expect more from their story telling nowadays than they did in the 70s? Either way, this play seemed to happen all too quickly to be believable; boy meets girl; girl and boy fall in love; boy sleeps with girl; girl meets mother; mother asserts authority; girl gives mother a piece of her mind; boy is betrayed; girl leaves; girl changes her mind – and barely 24 hours has passed. Luckily however the actors were so proficient in their performance, that this temporal inconsistency seemed almost insignificant.

Don is blind, and Gershe initially has you believe that this will be pivotal to his plot. The character on which the story is based was a blind attorney named Harold Krents, who was successful despite his affliction. Gershe makes his audience think that this affliction might in some way be significant to the story telling, but it turns out, in fact, to be secondary to his plot line. This play is really a coming of age story – and it could happen to anyone. What Gershe simultaneously achieves is demonstrating that there really is no difference between a seeing or blind person - both face the same relationship challenges and both have an equally strong (or weak) perspective on their own existence.

Robert Bell plays Don as an intelligent, educated, calm and confident male who needs to be loved – but not treated differently. Bell’s characterisation is simple and true, though almost omniscient in his interactions with Jill. Bell is very accurate in his portrayal of blindness – his mannerisms could only be improved with more deliberate, calculated and measured movements – his facial expression however, is still focussed and uninhibited by any actual visual stimuli.

Charlotte Batty, in the role of Jill, epitomises a young incipient ‘wannabe’ Broadway starlet. Only occasionally overplaying her characters simpleness, Batty exudes an endearing quality which is easy to love, and which grows quickly on the audience as she explores the relationship forming with her new friend/lover, in Don. The initial scenes in the play are so enjoyable, as we (the audience) start to identify with the early stages of their burgeoning relationship.

The first act of the play only introduces the two characters, but director John Graham has worked hard with the actors to maintain an excellent pace. This pace is both engaging and exciting and Bell and Batty each handle their characters with great style.

As Don’s mother Mrs Baker, Lindy LeCornu steals the best part of the second act. Gershe has written Mrs Baker with a dry sarcastic wit, which LeCornu embodies perfectly – delivering her lines dryer than the Atacama Desert, LeCornu has the audience literally rolling in the aisles. But Mrs Baker isn’t so one dimensional, and LeCornu shows us that it’s her motherly instinct that rules, not just a desire to ruin her son’s life, as she reveals a softer and more understanding side late in the production.

Anthony Vawser has a cameo as Ralph and is suitably awkward, saying all the wrong things, at all the wrong times. Vawser is credited as the stage manager too, and should be commended for running a smooth show wearing multiple hats. The lighting by Richard Parkhill and the set by Normajeane Ohlsson are both functional and appropriate as are the costumes by Judy Menz, arguably however these events could take place in any time, at any place, and it is only the decision of the director, John Graham, which has grounded them here.

I was plagued by the all too quick and ‘easy’ resolutions that Gershe provided for his characters, but I forgave this on account of the great performances, so if you can see this show then I suggest you do. There aren’t many shows left for St Jude’s but this is definitely worth a look if you can make it.

Paul Rodda.

When: 2 to 11 August
Where: St Jude’s Hall
Bookings: 8270 4205