An intimate setting for intimate themes, Theatre Group’s rendition of Leonard Gershe’s New York based romantic comedy was an occasionally funny and somewhat heart-warming show, carried by the powerhouse talents of Ellie Fowler and Joanna Mills.
Don Baker (Liam Dyer) derides victimhood, blind, and excessively coddled, he stumbles out of the proverbial bird nest, struggling to fully take flight because his mother’s (Ellie Fowler) overreaching parenting has him firmly by the tail. Insistently self-reliant in his own apartment, he soon encounters striking and sensual neighbour Jill Tanner, (Joanna Mills) every bit excitable, impulsive, and fickle as he is steady, concerning, and dedicated, she heartily invades his life, physically and emotionally, with all manner of comedic repercussions. Gershe’s play is a warm, funny affair about love, growing pains and bias, set entirely within a New York apartment.
A production can’t really get much more intimate when the actors are having a picnic on the floor less than two feet in front of your knees. Director Anna Williams and team seemingly understood this notion of closeness within the source material, attempting to inflate it by situating the performance within the tight confines of a souped-up seminar room, fully outfitted with bed, dining table, chairs and foodstuffs. Somewhat uncomfortably close at first, the decision ultimately worked well to force the audience directly into proceedings, creating a compelling amount of immersion, as long as you weren’t in dire need to rush ‘on stage’ and out the door to use the bathroom.
Williams and cast displayed a certain adeptness in utilizing what little space they did have to operate in decided and necessary displays and movements. The technical effects remained minimal as a result of the venue, but what little they did have they employed well in conjunction with the setting, particularly the use of music and light dimmer.
Hands tightly clasped and sporting a scowl Ellie Fowler’s Mrs Baker entered, brilliantly fierce and convincing. Fowler deserves credit for not only avoiding outright mincing the American accent, but for presenting a tangible duality in walking the fine line between the domineering, oppressive, and the anxious, frail maternal.
The same cannot be said however for Liam Dyer’s American accent, of which was actually convincingly Irish. Liam portrayed a Don Baker that was perhaps a tad too comedically inclined; overtly smiley and light hearted, a problem perhaps exacerbated by a distracting amount of make-up, and would possibly have benefitted more from an occasionally steadier, more grounded delivery of dialogue. Liam did however display a certain credible blind physicality, and flexed talent most in argument with his mother.
The giddy, sexual Jill Tanner was sincerely realised by Joanna Mills, who expertly pranced about the set, not missing a comedic beat and exhibiting great flair in portraying the cheeky naivety of her character. Indeed the play worked best and was most touching in moments shared between Joanna and Ellie, especially when they were allowed to clash.
Johnathan Clark’s Ralph Austin, however, arrived and upset this balance completely with an overly exaggerated and questionable southern American bark that would puncture and deflate any carefully fostered sincerity, and indeed break any immersion the toilet-denying intimate setting had conjured.
This was an interesting production, unfortunately marred by some unconvincing accents, a few garbled lines, and some odd characterisation with Ralph Austin. Praise, however, for Fowler and Mills who carried the production and made it enjoyable.
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