Saturday, November 2, 2013

Review: (Toronto) dirty butterfly

Kaleb Alexander, Lauren Brotman, Beryl Bain (photo by Joe Bucci)
Catch Up Then Slow Down
by Keely Kwok

Debbie Tucker Green’s dirty butterfly has three characters, two sets and two themes. It’s almost two different plays compressed into 65 minutes. 

Part One hits the ground running. Amelia (Beryl Bain) is a hard ass. And brilliantly so. From the moment she utters her first word she distances herself from Jo, played by the remarkably childlike Lauren Brotman. Finally there’s the stuttering snivelling sweetheart (but is he?) Jason (Kaleb Alexander). All three seamlessly intertwine with one another. There’s a poetic fluidity to the language of the play and the actors perform it beautifully. Constantly overlapping, repeating what someone has said only to give it new meaning for themselves, yelling a word that clearly has a greater meaning. You spend the first half hour breathlessly trying to catch up, to grasp what they are actually talking about. You follow each one as they take the spotlight to tell their part of the story. Hats off to director Jack Grinhaus for the blocking. They speak about the things that happen in their lives with just enough detail to paint an abstract image of what they experienced. 

And yet there are moments of extreme specificity and exactitude too.

There’s a moment between Jo and Jason where the latter has been listening on his side of the wall to Jo and her husband in their apartment. Jo has to strategically sneak out of her bedroom to go to the bathroom without waking her abusive husband. Brotman and Alexander weave the retelling together, each saying half a sentence to make a whole, distinctively from their own perspective. And it’s interactions like this that showcase what the play is really about: the collateral damage of domestic abuse. In this shanty apartment building with its paper thin walls, everyone hears everyone’s business. Domestic abuse doesn’t just affect the one, it affects the many. The question is, what do the many do about it? 

Jo’s husband is never named. He’s referred to as 'him'. Likewise, in part two of the play when the apartments disappear and we’re in the café where Amelia cleans, her employers are called 'they'. No names. These ominous beings could be anybody. We, the audience, could easily be the Amelia or the Jo. 

Though there are some oddly placed comedic moments in the play and it’s like watching two different shows in one, I must say that dirty butterfly makes you think. It’s the kind of performance that stays with you as you replay certain lines and try to untangle their true meaning. dirty butterfly shines a light on the inactivity of people and those who refuse to make the suffering of others their problem. Everyone is at fault. Everyone is a victim. 

Runs to Nov. 17
Read also: an interview with co-artistic directors of Bound to Create, Jack Grinhaus and Lauren Brotman

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