Off-Broadway Review: “Butterfly” Tugs at Heartstrings at 59E59 Theaters

May 13, 2016 | Off-Broadway | Tags:
Review: Butterfly at 59E59 Theaters (Closed Saturday May 14, 2016)
Adapted from John Luther Long’s Short Story Madame Butterfly
Adapted and Directed by Ramesh Meyyappan
Reviewed by David Roberts
Theatre Reviews Limited

The only barrier between immersing oneself in Ramesh Meyyappan’s brilliant “Butterfly” is attempting to connect the wordless well-choreographed “dance” of love, betrayal, and redemption with its namesake “Madame Butterfly” or with the interesting connections to the lepidopterist Vladimir Nabokov. One needs to grapple with the piece itself and accept it as a unique piece of experimental theatre replete with stunning imagery and engaging music by David Paul Jones.

Naomi Livingstone is the protagonist Butterfly who constructs kites and sells them from her shop. When the Customer (played with sinister overtones by Chris Alexander) pushes his interest in kites to interest in their maker too far, Butterfly rejects his advances and he eventually returns and assaults her sexually. Nabokov (played with a naïve cunning by Ramesh Meyyappan) offers Butterfly an avenue of escape in collecting butterflies – a trope that easily connects with his interest in Butterfly herself and her journey to self-discovery and self-fulfillment. Butterfly’s engagement with the two men (are they one and the same perhaps?) is told with stylized movement, imaginative puppetry, and stark dream sequences that take the audience deep into Butterfly’s non-conscious reflections on love and motherhood. What is real and what is not keeps the piece interesting and Mr. Meyyappan’s direction keeps the piece moving and accessible.

Played without words, “Butterfly” depends heavily on symbolism and the ability of the actors to portray emotion successfully with only facial and body expressions. Mr. Meyyappan, Ms. Livingstone, and Mr. Alexander successfully navigate this terrain and deliver authentic and compelling performances. They bring kite-flying, butterflies, and Butterfly’s child to stunning realism – thanks to the brilliant craft of puppet maker Gavin Glover. Kudos to Ms. Livingstone whose emotional range is stunning and breathtaking.

Butterfly’s loss of love (Nabokov appears, disappears, and reappears with a knapsack on his back) and the ways she sustains herself until love reappears or reimagines makes for a wonderful story. There are two more opportunities to see “Butterfly” at 59E59 Theaters and the effort to see one of those performances is well worth the effort.