Every once in a while, a play comes along that reminds us how special theater can be when it lives up to its potential, and Butterfly Wings, by award-winning playwright G. Bruce Smith, is such a play.
Performed only three times last weekend at Santa Monica College’s Studio Stage, this highly theatrical, exquisitely written, poetic piece plumbs the depths of concerns and issues facing three college friends in war-time America. It delves into the bonds and conflicts that develop between these students, who come from disparate backgrounds, illuminating some of their challenges: continuing friendships, career decisions, conflicted sexual identity, and love, with such delicious lines as, “Love surfaces and scares us,” or, “Love has the power to astonish.”
Zander, passionately played by Joseff Stevenson, is a Caucasian American who is failing to live up to his overbearing father’s expectations by not going to graduate school. This troubled, alienated youth says his father will “hoist you on the petard of his broken dreams.” His activist father, played with sincere intensity by Tom Jermain, represents the type of parent who insists that his child live the parent’s dream, and is unforgiving when his youngster wants to take a different path. Through dramatic confrontations between these two characters, Smith shows us the ultimate price that is paid when a manipulative father tries to be hip. “We could watch TV and chill – that’s what you kids say, right? Chill?”
Aric Martin gives a intense performance as the conflicted Rajiv, an Indian who, because of the “secret life” that he’s had since the age of 14, does not want to return to India after graduation. His suffering mother Sarita, poignantly played by Hosai Yusufi, does not understand her son’s conflict and insists that he come back to India, marry the young girl she’s selected for him, and help in the family business as she’s “been enduring the gossip of my neighbors for too long.”
The third friend, and perhaps a character that could use a bit more development, is sharp-tongued Maggie, a Harvard-bound Asian American trust fund baby who sees the world as her oyster and is impatient with the conflicts her two male friends are experiencing. She has a number of sarcastic quips. “Let me know when the two of you outgrow adolescence,” or, “Let’s face it. The three of us are emotionally challenged.”
The theatrical device of the recurring Greek chorus of dancers, who restate and explain the unfolding action through beautiful poetry and movement, may not be unique, but is riveting nonetheless as directed by the chair of the SMC Theatre Arts Department, Perviz Sawoski. She seamlessly weaves those sequences in and out of the unfolding drama creating beautiful dance tableaus set against a background of Hindu and Indian masks. The dancers use colorful scarves to create butterfly wings, a symbol that runs throughout the piece. Beautifully staged, Sawoski kept the action moving crisply and elicited extremely fine performances from her talented cast.
The technical elements, including the creative set, light, and costume designs, coupled with haunting music, enhanced the action. The only sad note is such a short run, as Smith has written a perfect play, theatrically revealing some of the conflicts facing young people today. One can only hope that this most gifted playwright will present us with another play very soon.