BWW Reviews: THE BARGAIN & THE BUTTERFLY Spreads its Wings

By: Apr. 02, 2013
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Occasionally a play comes along that, no matter how hard I try, I can't stop thinking about. Such was my experience over the weekend with THE BARGAIN & THE BUTTERFLY, inspired by Nathaniel Hawthorne's "The Artist of the Beautiful", conceived & directed by Katharine Noon for The Ghost Road Theatre Company.

Developed from devising workshops that are a kind of free-form collaborative exploration, it is an exciting and immensely thought-provoking journey into the mind and its fine line between genius, madness, and the all-consuming obsession with creation and knowledge.

Alternately detached and intensely emotional, THE BARGAIN & THE BUTTERFLY plays out delicately, yet with great weight as the repetition of specific words, phrases and ideas evoke a work of beauty when pieced together by threads of glass. And the collaboration doesn't stop with the actors and director.

Cricket S. Myers' sound design breathes subtly in the background - drops of water, the ticking of time passing, the shatter of dreams made physical in blunt abstractions that create art in and of themselves as their presence lingers in the air. These are moments that live long after the show has ended and the audience steps back into the insidious reality of everyday sameness.

Characters periodically light themselves with hand-held clip lights and flashlights that call to mind a feeling of being examined under a spotlight or microscope as they continually move into deeper levels of commentary. Ronnie Clark's lighting is exquisite throughout and Maureen Weiss's production design is a tactile presence.

Christel Joy Johnson offers a prism of unlimited colors in her portrayal of Annie, the obsessed woman who will not stop until she finds a solution for her problem. Using synchronized movements, she and Brian Weir (as Owen) express a deep emotional connection that more than once drew audible gasps from the audience. Because part of the absolute joy of seeing this play is figuring out who each character is to each other, I won't elaborate further on their relationship here. Revelations come in fragments rather than lining up linearly and that, too, is exciting, making it incumbent upon the audience to pay close attention.

As a glass blower who finds himself drawn in to Annie's world by happenstance, Doug Sutherland delivers an intricate, finely nuanced character who, like Johnson, reveals his thoughts as much in the moments he isn't speaking as in those he does. Jen Kays and Ronnie Clark complete the ensemble as Mother and Father, personifying the familial archetypes that come together to create new life while also expressing the sad inability of two loving individuals to completely understand each other.

It is an amalgamation of elements, tightly interwoven with grace and dexterity, and it creates an unforgettable night of theatre that speaks to the artist in us all.

Through April 7, 2013
Artworks Theatre, 6569 Santa Monica Blvd., Los Angeles, CA 90038
Tuesdays through Saturdays at 8:00 pm; Sundays at 7:00 pm
Tickets: $25 general admission.

Pictured above: Christel Joy Johnson (foreground) and Brian Weir (background). Photo credit: Patti McGuire.


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