Chicago Children’s Theatre
at North Shore Country Day School
The Butterfly, by Bijan Mofid, is billed as a Persian folktale about love, honor, and courage, but the translation by Don Laffoon struck me as a veiled glorification of the artistic spirit. Maybe I’m reading too much into it, but the plodding production left me ample time for daydreaming.
The play is about a beautiful butterfly (Denise Dailey McCauley) who flies into a dark attic and gets trapped in a spider’s web. The spider (David Saperstein) claims he is starving and must eat the butterfly or die. But he is struck by her beauty and touched by her deep desire to keep her “appointment with the sun,” so he offers her a deal–he’ll let her go if she promises to lure two or three fat, juicy bugs into his web.
The butterfly reluctantly agrees and sets out in search of victims. First she meets an old grasshopper (Jeff Satterfield) who works as a carpenter–using the serrations on the back of his left leg to saw boards. The grasshopper seems like a suitable victim–he’s old, and he has no aspirations to see the sun. “People must be content with what they have,” he says. “What’s the use of sitting in a dark attic like this and longing for the sun when it’s unreachable?”
But when the butterfly realizes the grasshopper is willing to drop what he is doing to help her, she is so touched she cannot go through with her plan to lure him into the spider’s web. The same thing happens with Auntie Beetle (Patty Newell), who is devoted to her 12 children.
The Lightning Bug gets a pass because he’s a storyteller. With his Magic Light Box, he conjures visions that delight and enchant the other bugs. “But don’t you miss the sun?” the butterfly asks. “I’m only in demand when I’m in the dark,” he says. “If there were sunshine, who would notice my Magic Light Box?”
The Honeybee (Scott Ferguson) is dazzled by the butterfly, so she certainly can’t sacrifice him–he obviously has a sense of beauty. And the Magnificent Fly (Betsey Means) is an actor–another creative type the butterfly deems worthy of life.
So that’s the way it goes–the creative are too important to be food for the spider; the rest get off because they appeal to the butterfly’s vanity or to her sense of pity. As I said, I may be reading too much into the play–it is, after all, just a story for kids. But the lame ending does little to clarify matters. When the butterfly returns to the web, ready to turn herself in, the spider says he was just kidding–he won’t die if he doesn’t eat her. “You could have brought me hundreds of those creatures, but you didn’t,” he tells her. “You are truly good.”
Yeah. Or easily dazzled by creative types. At any rate, the production features fine costumes by Nan Zabriskie, who chose to downplay the literal features of the insects. These bugs have only subtle capelike wings–except for the butterfly’s splendid set–and no antennae. Jeff Bauer’s set, which includes a couple of insect houses that open up to reveal their interiors, makes a dark attic look attractive and appealing. The web resembles ship’s rigging, which allows the spider to scurry up onto a perch and wait for his prey to become entangled. The appearance of everything is so impressive that The Butterfly manages to hold the attention of the audience for 60 minutes, despite Betsy Hamilton’s leisurely direction and the uniformly bland performances of the cast members.