BWW Review: BUTTERFLIES Overreaches Its Limits
It's hard to believe how much BUTTERFLIES manages to fit into a 90 minutes. This co-production by The Tank and Kairos Italy Theatre manages to deal with sisterhood, motherhood, bohemian versus traditional lifestyles, mental health, and terminal illness in less than two hours. It feels as rushed as you might expect - in some ways, this play is the epitome of the phrase, "That escalated quickly."
The play explores the bond between two sisters who have been abandoned by their parents and have become entirely reliant on each other. They play a mysterious game in which whoever has possession of the butterfly hairpin can demand that the other one complete any task from getting a tattoo to giving away their belongings. As the years pass, the gap between the sisters becomes wider - but each one's determination to not lose the game becomes stronger.
It's possible that the play suffers from being translated (by Carlotta Brentan) from its original Italian script by Emanuele Aldrovandi. Certainly the cultural translation isn't smooth. The arranged marriage plot line makes little sense in modern America, even though the sisters address that the idea is archaic. The repeated use of the word "retarded" also felt jarring. It isn't quite fantastical enough to feel like a proper removed-from-reality fantasy, but still feels far from real life.
Or perhaps it's just that the direction by Jay Stern can feel lost at times. While both actresses have good moments, it often feels like their character development is erratic and random. Annie Watkins (the "Blonde") and Danielle Sacks (the "Brunette") have great chemistry together, even if they didn't feel completely in control of the lines and action of the show.
Watkins has a chilling scene towards the end of the piece that she executes very well, while both women deliver great comedic bits throughout particularly when taking on characters other than the two sisters. Sacks has a lovely singing voice even if the handful of songs done acapella throughout felt more random than effective.
Easily the best parts are when the actresses use puppets made from mops to impersonate their father and step-mother. The design of the piece, by Sarah Edkins, is interesting from these puppets to the doll-sized black furniture pieces that make up the various settings. It makes the small black box venue at The Tank more versatile than you might expect.
Near the beginning of the show, one of the sisters explains that they aren't like other girls who "all want to be unique." This play is certainly unique, but it feels like it is longing to make a statement that it falls shy of actually achieving. Perhaps if it spent more time developing its characters so that the stakes felt real or if it tried to take on less at once, it would be more effective. As it is, BUTTERFLIES is as hard to decipher as the game that it features.