by DICK KEREKES & LEISLA SANSOM
St. Augustine’s Limelight Theatre opened its first production of 2014 on the Matuza Main Stage with a revival of Leonard Gershe’s BUTTERFLIES ARE FREE, which will play through February 16th. Note that there will be no performance on Saturday, February 1st, as that is the date for their gala fundraiser, which includes a party at the Lightner Museum and a cabaret at the Lewis Auditorium at Flagler College.
“Butterflies” opened in 1969 on Broadway and ran for a very successful 1,128 performances, which is exceptional for a non-musical play. Blythe Danner won a Tony for Best Actress and the play was also nominated for Best Direction. The excellent movie version came out in 1972, with Eileen Heckart as the mother winning an Oscar for Best Supporting Actress.
A very simple plot summary goes like this. It is the story about the romance of a young man, who was born blind, with a kooky next door neighbor and the inevitable showdown with his possessive mother. It may seem dated but the themes are timeless. We are surprised that this appears to be the first time it has been done to our knowledge in St. Augustine, which is the home of nationally known Florida School for the Deaf and the Blind. Don, the main character, was home schooled and never experienced the social advantages that participating in a classroom environment with others would have offered.
BRYAN BOYTEK, JR. plays the leading role of Don, who is in his 20s, and has just recently moved into a sparsely furnished New York apartment. His mother has reluctantly approved his living alone for the first time on a two-month trial basis. The Dual Critics saw Mr. Boytek in action in December at Orange Park Community Theatre in their very successful production of the musical “White Christmas.” In fact, the resume of this talented actor includes roles in a number of musicals, as a singer, dancer, and choreographer. For his first dramatic role, he plays the part with an endearing firmness and modesty. He is very believable, with a performance that is both generous and revelatory.
CHELSEA JO CONRAD is Jill, an aspiring actress who lives next door but becomes a significant milestone in Don’s life in less than 24 hours. Ms. Conrad is new to this area, and recently appeared in “Moon over Buffalo” at the Flagler Playhouse. Jill, while vivacious and endearing, is also naive and impulsive when it comes to relationships; for example she was married at age sixteen for just six days. She is responsible for most of the humor in this production, with a flawless comic decorum which means getting every possible laugh without pushing and stepping outside of the constraints of comedy when seriousness is implied. She is cute as a button and fills the stage and Don’s heart with rays of sunshine.
HAZEL ROBINSON plays Mrs. Baker, Don’s fussy and overly protective mother, to perfection. Mrs. Robinson recently returned from New York to Florida with her family; she had previously appeared in three productions at Limelight several years ago.
The final character is Ralph Austin, a theatre director who has cast Jill in a role in an Off-Off-Broadway play. This smaller role, as played by BRENT JORDON, who was recently in Limelight’s “Spamalot,” is significant as it changes the direction and dynamics of the play in the second act. Mr. Jordon is a young actor in his first very busy year of stage performances, and with his talent, it won’t be his last.
Scenic and Lighting Designer TOM FALLON’s 1960s piecemeal New York apartment captures the atmosphere of the setting, with industrial brick walls, vintage appliances, and industrial brick walls.
LORRAINE ROKOVITZ’s selection of costumes, especially Jill’s colorful hippie style dresses, complemented the acting on the stage.
Over the years, we have seen many plays in Jacksonville and St. Augustine directed by JEAN RAHNER, and in addition have seen her perform on stage in many memorable roles, so it is always with anticipation that we look forward to a production with her brand on it. The real test of any play is how you feel about the characters and under Jean’s direction the show is both earnest and peppered with humor. The sensitive and perceptive direction of this production makes a compelling argument that the revival of this classic deserves renewed attention. As you see this play, take note that the playwright accomplished the feat of making many of the lines humorous and yet at the same time relevant to character development underscored with deeper significance. It is a must-see for lovers of fine theatre.
BUTTERFLIES ARE FREE
by DICK KEREKES & LEISLA SANSOM