Review: dirty butterfly (Bound to Create Theatre)

Kaleb Alexander Lauren Brotman Beryl Bain dirty butterfly Bound to Create Theatre photo by Joe Bucci

A dark and intriguing story of domestic abuse, dirty butterfly is playing at Toronto’s Aki Studio Theatre

Have you ever had one of those days you wish would just end? A day when every passing moment becomes more torturous than the next?

Presented last night at the Aki Studio Theatre, dirty butterfly is a compelling and poignant look at one woman’s torment living with domestic abuse.

This Bound to Create Theatre production was spectacularly performed. Each movement was clean and concise, and the dialogue was delivered with undeniable passion and conviction. Lauren Brotman gave a brilliant performance as Jo – the unfortunate subject of daily physical and emotional abuse. Brotman was likeable in her role – thoroughly captivating the audience while convincingly emoting her character’s anguish. Beryl Bain, who played Jo’s roommate, Amelia, was wonderfully cheeky and vivacious: able to display light-hearted whimsy equally as persuasively as she played brash and bitchy, Bain gave a strong and memorable performance. And for his part, Kaleb Alexander did not disappoint as Jason, the neighbour who would often overhear the moments of Jo’s abuse. Alexander delivered his dialogue with such convincing fervor that one could not help but be moved during his character’s moments of fragility and fear.

The writing of this play was also quite strong, conveying much meaning without having to blatantly spell out what was happening throughout the narrative. There were, however, a few disjointed aspects of the plot which hindered this play’s overall effectiveness as a social commentary on domestic violence.

The play is divided up into two segments. The first consisting of dialogue between all three characters delving into the psychological ramifications of the abuse, with each character giving their feelings and moral positions regarding it. They each agree that Jo is undoubtedly a victim, but differ in their opinion on whether she bears some blame for simply not walking out. This act brings up many questions regarding the nature of domestic violence, but does not offer any insights into what the playwright’s own thoughts on the matter are – a common convention for many first acts.

We are then transported to the diner where Amelia works as a cleaning lady. Jo stumbles in, battered and bruised, seeking solace from her friend but finding none. It is in this scene where one would expect all the long exposition to finally pay off, but rather, we are left with more questions as to what this piece is trying to say. A stark U-turn from the thought-provoking dialogue of the first act, the second scene plays out in an odd attempt to add some levity to the situation – which seemed rather out of place. Instead of finally tackling the issue of what what the consequences are of raising one’s fist in anger, we are simply left with an abrupt and somewhat predictable tragic ending. For this reviewer, watching this scene left a bitter taste in my mouth. Was this the entire extent of the depth of this piece’s social commentary – that domestic abuse is tragic? This of course is a point that nobody would argue, but should plays not go above and beyond the simplest of observations?

This piece could have been so much more. It could have examined so much more. The narrative begged for a third act. It begged for depth. It begged for closure. There were so many themes brought up in the first act that were left unanswered, and instead we were left with a hurried dénouement. What was missing was the aftermath of second scene. Without spoiling the ending, the sad reality is that situations of domestic abuse will often end tragically. But to simply end a production on this premise alone seemed to simply throw out all the wonderfully poetic insights and opportunity for in-depth theme exploration created by the first act.

This criticism, while harsh, is not to say that I did not enjoy this piece. In fact the opposite is true. It’s because the first act was so compelling that I expected more. The dialogue was honest and well-written. And for last night’s incarnation of this piece, the acting was superb. But with the rushed way things were left, this piece just felt incomplete.

Details:

  • dirty butterfly plays October 30th until the 17th at the Aki Studio Theatre (585 Dundas Street East)
  • Show times and Prices: Tuesday to Saturday 8:00 p.m Sundays at 2:00 p.m. Tues and Wed $20, Thurs to Sun $25. $20 Student and artist tickets.
Oct 30 and 31. Special Preview W/talkbacks $15. Sunday Nov 10 PWYC
  • Tickets are available online or through the box office at 1.800.204.0855

Photo credit: Joe Bucci