I didn’t much care for “Giving Birth to a Butterfly,” although I can appreciate the attempt to meld elements of the Theatre of the Absurd, memory plays and magical realism into something odd, obscurant and quite out of the ordinary.
A modern story of childish, delusional adults, a pregnant teen and a “big hearted” pet store kid who wants to help her raise her baby, the script folds in local theater, identity theft and dreams that have taken over the lives of some characters, at least one of whom becomes a surrogate for the audience just often enough for us to appreciate the “speaking out in protest” effort, if not its impact on the narrative.
“I don’t mean to be rude,” she says, “but you don’t make much sense.“
It matters a little who she is, but it doesn’t matter who she says this to, because while “tragedy is all around us,” it’s the dreamy flakes, veering from upbeat to harshly critical, depending on how you react to their delusions, who take up most of the oxygen here.
Daryl (Paul Sparks) is a father of two trying out restaurant names — “Beautiful and Real Food,” he offers. “Daryl’s Cafe?” “Karma? If was a drive-up place you could call it ‘Carma.'” The whole house is saving up to fulfill this dream.
Wife Diana (Annie Parisse) listens indulgently, daughter Rachel (Rachel Resheff) humors him in between rehearsals of the play she’s lighting.
Son Andrew or “Drew” (Owen Campbell) is expected to go to college until that moment that he walks in with a pregnant peer, Marlene (Guy Birney) on his arm. But the baby’s not his. He’s just stepping up and leaping into adulthood as he does.
A scene or two later, we see Daryl in his chef’s jacket, passing on a burger and fries order to his boss, whom he addresses as “Chef.”
“DARYL! Stop using up all the aprons (to make a fake chef jacket)! You’re not a real chef!”
Rachel dreams of a life in the theater, hearing out the young actors as they try out “stage names.” A light that drops from the ceiling is another clue that maybe we should be taking “Giving Birth to a Butterfly” as a comedy. She’s a little sloppy in living her dream.
Another point-of-view change takes us into Marlene’s home life. Her aged, single mother has gone full “Sunset Boulevard.” She’s ready for another imaginary interview.
“I just need them to see me, Marlene,” she says, swanning about and asking Marlene to “zip me up” into dresses from decades before. She devours supermarket tabloids, looking for references to Brigitte something-or-other, her stage name. “You’ve got to read between the LINES, Marlene. They’re good at hiding what they’re REALLY saying.”
And then Diana hits the wall. She finds herself relying on this strange, pregnant teen she’s just met to travel with her to right a wrong in her life.
Yes, these are the two most rational characters, and yes, their destination and the two people they will meet there will prove just as odd and bizarre as much of what’s preceded this road trip.
The dialogue is mostly a series of confessional musings and memories masquerading as conversations.
The early scenes have a random, “What or who could be next?” curiosity. And they do lead to something like a conclusion.
But the entire enterprise feels like a piece of experimental theater that needs further workshopping before it’s ready for the stage. We all have a higher tolerance for this sort of intentionally opaque drama/dark comedy decorated with the odd lovely turn of phrase on the stage and the actors are right in front of us and thus too vulnerable to catcalls.
I mean, “I don’t mean to be rude. But you don’t make much sense.”
Rating: unrated, profanity
Cast: Annie Parisse, Gus Birney, Paul Sparks, Rachel Resheff, Judith Roberts and Owen Campbell
Credits: Directed by Theodore Schaefer, scripted by Patrick Lawler and Theodore Schaefer. A Cinedigm release.
Running time: 1:18