The Disorientation of Butterflies
nytheatre.com review by Pamela Butler
August 21, 2011
In a smallish venue with a piano and a good accompanist, The Drifting Theatre from Northeast Tennessee presents The Disorientation of Butterflies, a musical about the torments of depression and how debilitating it can be within a family.
The accompanist and music director, Nathan A. Schmidt, plays throughout as we hear the story of twins Jessie and Johanna. Johanna is ambitious, productive, energetic and reasonably happy. Jessie, married to Tyler, obsesses about death. She has become absorbed with questions of purpose and she has trouble accepting that we die anyway. Tyler tries his best to comfort her, to no avail.
The story is told in song, and the cast is, for the most part, up to the music. Particularly noteworthy are both Marji Peters (the suffering Jessie) and Katie Fridsma (her concerned twin, Johanna). They remain expressive, emotional and passionate, with clear subtlety. Credit goes to them and the directing, by Alaska Reece Vance. Beth Litwik, as their loving mother, Ariel, also delivers her songs with skill and excellent acting. Bradley James Archer offers a solid performance as Tyler. Chad Rasor does a fine job as Granddad, who the girls are very attached to.
After seeing the play, I found myself trying to figure out who the character of Mara is. There is nothing in the program or her costuming to suggest she is anything other than a real person in the play; but her relationship, first to Jessie and then to the others, is vague and suggestive of a spirit, not a person. RaChelle Cheeks, as Mara, is light on her feet, in a bright blue dress, a colorful scarf and cowboy-like boots. Sometimes, towards the end of the play, she carries a votive candle in her open palm. I found her role murky, although she has energy and presence and is fun to watch.
The message of the piece is clear. We don’t know why people become depressed, inflict pain on themselves or even commit suicide, but it happens and there are ways to reach out. Here is a sincere effort to get the message across, and in a surprise twist at the end, there’s a chance to see another perspective.
The production has its problems, but the subject is important.