As I’m not precisely sure of the tale I’ve just witnessed, I can only share impressions. Note: The only, very tenuous similarities to Madame Butterfly here are love, loss and Japan.
Butterfly is a gentle maker of kites. On stage, these are bamboo, small, often silk, and given ribbon tails. A suitor, who buys many, leaves a gift wrapped book each time he exits. When he eventually reaches for her, she jumps away and tries to return his gift.
Naomi Livingstone; Naomi Livingstone and Chris Alexander
One day, testing her wares, the lady meets a lepidopterist – someone who studies butterflies. Both are infatuated with flight and, one would think freedom. Butterfly learns to wield the man’s net much as she does her airborne craft. Flying creatures are depicted by fluttering hands. It’s balletic. They grow close. He moves in. The first time her lover kills, pins and frames a creature, she’s taken aback, but unexpectedly accepts what he does. Shelves at the back of her shop fill with jars containing butterflies.
Her determined pursuer returns with another book, which she refuses. Butterfly’s untrusting lover walks in on this and becomes violently jealous. Subsequently he appears to catch the first man raping her (very effective), presumes she’s acquiescent, mistreats and abandons her.
Naomi Livingstone, Ramesh Meyyappan, Chris Alexander
Interpretation of the rest of the piece is up for grabs. Some or all of it may be fantasy, dream/nightmare. The men separately return and exit. Butterfly may or may not have a baby. As both male actors manipulate a toddler puppet we never know if they’re supposed to be there as characters as well. All that’s clear is Butterfly’s pain.
Much of the entirely silent-but-for-music piece is eloquently directed by its Creator Ramesh Meyyappan, but its ending is uncomfortably vague.
All three actors do a splendid job with Naomi Livingstone’s Butterfly a nuanced standout. Until things become obscure, we’re with them every step.
David Paul Jones’s Music is consistently appealing and evocative. Choreographer Darren Brownie creates a graceful, fluid narrative.
While one understands that Gavin Glover’s toddler puppet may very well be an imagined child, i.e. intended to be not quite fully realized, it’s so angry looking/lacking in any sweetness, tenderness is elusive.
Set Designer Neil Warmington manifests atmosphere as well as scenery. That screens (covered by kite skeletons) and shelving are held by the same bamboo with which Butterfly makes her kites is a lovely touch. Dozens upon dozens of jars with butterflies suddenly shock towards the end of the piece when Warmington effects a change.
Photos by Carol Rosegg
Opening: Ramesh Meyyappan and Naomi Livingstone
Brits Off Broadway presents
Created, Directed and Performed by Ramesh Meyyappan
Featuring Naomi Livingstone and Chris Alexander
59 East 59th Street
Through May 14, 2016