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"Butterflies are Free" begins the fall season of Theatre a la Carte, and a fitting start it is.
Under the direction of John Vicich, this four-character, two-act play set on the Lower East Side in 1969, is sweet, entertaining, and poignant.
The premise - the lesson - of the play, written by Leonard Gershe, is that we all have to play the cards we are dealt in life, and a severe handicap, which any of us is only one accident away from acquiring, should not hold us back from enjoying life to the very fullest.
In the comedy-drama, Don Baker, blind since birth, lives in a walk-up studio in Manhattan, having left his comfortable home in Scarsdale. He has lived in New York for the past month, after leading a sheltered life. His mother, a widow, does not think he can make it on his own.
She is a protective and overbearing parent, although she has done her best to keep him from being hurt by others who may not understand, or care, about the handicapped. She made sure that he had private tutors and kept close to home.
He feels he has not had the chance to be on his own and finally his mother, known to the audience only as Mrs. Baker, agrees that he can live by himself for two months. She's convinced he won't be able to manage on his own, and calls constantly to check how he's doing.
Richard Hoist as Don makes his debut with Theatre a la Carte. He becomes this character, always trying to be cheerful, happy to be on his own for the first time, away from his mother, and reveling in his newly found freedom. He has not made any friends yet, except for the guys at the deli and the cleaner's on the block. He counts the number of steps to get to their stores. He manages to buy his groceries and sees that he has clean laundry. He loves the sounds of the city, the warmth of the sun from his sky-light, and knows where every piece of furniture is in the room, except when an object is moved.
His mother is very curious as to the kind of apartment he has rented, what furniture he has, how and what he is eating, and his being lonely. He tells her in a telephone call, "Go to Saks, Mother, spend money, do anything in the city, but don't come here. I'm having lots of friends in for parties. Just leave me alone and don't call."
Don knows that someone has moved into the adjoining studio. He can hear the blast of the radio through the paper-thin walls. He bangs on a closed connecting door to ask the occupant to lower the sound.
A 19-year old hippy with long silky hair, wearing provocative clothes, breathlessly chattering non-stop, makes her entrance through the front door. She introduces herself as Jill Tanner, and, immediately, Don learns that she has come from Los Angeles to be an actress in the Big Apple. Jill, played by the talented Alexandra Devin, is the noisy tenant. Devin is a graduate of Sarah Lawrence College and, at present, has joined the cast of a pre-Broadway workshop for a new musical. Her one-act plays have been produced at Theatre Studio and Gallery Players. She is at work on a full-length play, and is a member of the Illyra Theatre on 42nd Street in Manhattan.
Jill isn't even aware that Don is blind, until she remarks that he is spilling cigarette ash on the table - she has taken the ashtray for her cigarette, and Don could not have known that it was missing. She is intrigued by being with a blind person and asks highly personal questions.
Jill is thrilled when Don plays his own composition, "Butterflies are Free" on the guitar for her. Somehow the words, which have eluded him for a long period of time, come tripping off his tongue. He is happy, feeling the joy of life that her personality has inspired in him. He also is puzzled that she lives for today, with no definite plans on her career in the future. Jill is paying rent on a monthly basis so she can take off whenever she feels like it.
She tells him that her apartment is a pig sty, and admires that his is so neat, especially for a man. They become immediate friends. She loves food and regularly raids Don's refrigerator.
In no time at all, Jill is telling him that she ran away to get married at 16 years old. As she explains the marriage, "I liked Jack and we were together for six days, but then I knew marriage wasn't for me, and I left." With little prodding, she spills the beans on her father, who left, her mother's numerous boyfriends (all of them from different religions) and the chaos of her early life.
Two completely different people who don't have a thing in common, become each other's soul mate. In no time at all, they are making love on his sofa, at Jill's instigation. The following morning, Mrs. Baker walks into the apartment to check on how her son is doing and discovers the two lovers, he in his underpants and she in a bra and boxer shorts.
This is not at all what Mrs. Baker wants for her "Donny." She tells Jill she is leading her son astray, and tells them both that Jill is "a worldly, married woman" who has led her loving and obedient son on the path to ruin. "I predicted this would happen when Donny left Scarsdale!" she exclaims.
Anthony Leone, played by Ralph Austin, is the new boyfriend that Jill has met at an audition. Jill has decided to pack her things and move in with Anthony, who is dressed in a hippy outfit and appears to be a rough-and-ready kind of guy. Austin is also debuting in "Conversations with my Father. "
Jill, in her eagerness to leave Don, especially because of what his mother has said, has taken up with a sleazy, bare-chested, producer who has given her a part that calls for nudity. Jill believes this chance will bring her the acclaim she needs. She doesn't think about her actions, she just does things on a whim and in their parting, Don is inconsolable.
The capable and sympathetic director, John Vicich, stage manager Lisa C. Oranges, producer Jagana Martin, and the talented cast bring these colorful characters to life. Comedy, charm, pathos, and talent are all the ingredients that make "Butterflies are Free" a successful production by Theatre a la Carte at the Community Church of Douglaston on Douglaston Parkway.
Performances continue Fridays and Saturdays, Nov. 3,4, 10, and 11 at 8 p.m. and Sundays, Nov. 5 and 12 at 3 p.m. For reservations or more information, call 718-631-4092.
Reach free-lance writer Anita Raymon by e-mail at Timesledgr@ aol.com or call 229-0300, Ext. 139.