Velma Gratch and the Way Cool Butterfly
nytheatre.com review by Wendy Remington Bowie
January 23, 2011
In Velma Gratch and the Way Cool Butterfly, we meet Velma on her way to her first day of first grade. She is, of course, nervous about the changes she is about to encounter and seeks the advice of her two older sisters, Fiona and Freida. Turns out those two older sisters are a force to be reckoned with—Freida is an academic superstar and Fiona a soccer superstar. Velma, as the third and unknown Gratch, wants to find a way to distinguish herself in a school that adores the older Gratch sisters. She makes a false start getting attention by misbehaving, singing too loudly in chorus, and acting silly in school. Guided by her teacher Mr. Plexipuss and the Principal, Velma redirects her energy into a positive direction and finds that her curiosity and ability to ask questions is actually a great start to becoming a scientist. The class is studying butterflies and metamorphosis and Velma becomes an expert, the school “butterfly girl.” Upon a trip to the butterfly conservatory, a butterfly chooses to land on Velma, which makes her a superstar at school. However, it refuses to leave her and begins to take over Velma’s life. When Velma encourages her butterfly to make its migration to Mexico, Velma learns to identify her own strengths and be proud as her own, independent Gratch sister.
The performance was clearly crafted to create a great experience for the children, and by their reactions, it seems Vital has hit their mark. After the show the actors are available to speak to the kids about the performance and these particular actors were very amenable and lovely with the kids. The company provides space on the back of the program where the children can collect autographs to make their program a memento of a really positive and memorable experience attending live theatre.
My daughter was rapt start to finish, as were the rest of the children in the audience. The children, both boys and girls, really seemed to identify with the characters, and with Velma in particular. It was obvious that the children were engaged with and following the story, and learning along the way. I was particularly impressed when Mr. Plexipuss turned the entire theatre into his classroom and asked children in the audience about the concepts he was teaching. By the ready answers, it was obvious that the children in the audience had come away with the concepts of migration and metamorphosis that he had just taught in the class.
As an adult the performance wasn’t difficult to endure, but I wouldn’t say that I particularly enjoyed it. I can imagine what a challenge it could be to turn a short picture book into a full hour’s play, but in this case I felt it stretched the material a little bit. It seemed to take a while to get going. And although the story ultimately resolved with Velma in an active role, finding her strength within herself and her direction as a scientist, the story lingered long enough on Velma’s specialness coming from the fact that a butterfly had chosen to land on and stick with her that I worried what my kid would take away (but I say this with the caveat that we are going through an impressionable peer thing right now and therefore I’m particularly sensitive to this subject).
Overall the story was a positive one with some good role models. The experience is one that my daughter really remembers and meeting the actors and getting their autographs vested it with importance. And it seemed that the kids in the audience enjoyed every single second of it.