‘Butterflies’ affects

By Paul Wozniak

Timeless themes keep period piece fresh with Starlight romance

When community theaters stage 40-year-old plays, the results can be as stale as a forgotten bag of chips. But Starlight Dinner Theatre’s production of “Butterflies Are Free” feels fresh, lively and contemporary. Unlike Starlight’s standard lineup of broad farces, this polished revival of Leonard Gershe’s 1969 script draws its abundant laughs from the intimate pain of reality.

Jeffrey Kennedy plays Don Baker, a blind aspiring musician with an overprotective mother (Terry Minor). Don has recently moved out of his childhood home where he instantly clicks with his neighbor, Jill Tanner (Amelia Rogocka), recently divorced and extremely spontaneous. After Jill and Don’s encounter turns romantic, Don must navigate around unrealistic expectations and heartbreak.

Gershe’s script spends considerable time poking holes into the stereotypes and misconceptions of blindness. Jill has never met a blind person before Don, and remarks he seems “so adjusted.”

“As long as you don’t move anything, I’m as good as anyone else,” Don retorts.

The marvel of their banter is its universality. As Don’s character frequently reminds Jill, and later his mother, his lack of vision does not make him an alien — just a normal person without sight.

As a sighted actor, Kennedy is especially convincing in his role. There’s no need for indoor sunglasses or trademark gestures; Kennedy simply plays Don as a nice, tidy guy with a searing sense of humor. Similarly, Rogocka avoids any ridiculous accents or attempts to “play a hippie” in 1969; she brings Jill to life by simply embracing the world of an impulsive, sheltered 19-yearold. Their combined chemistry simmers beautifully throughout.

Minor does excellent work as Mrs. Baker, laying down blistering commentaries on Don’s apartment and lifestyle. (“Perhaps it’s a blessing you can’t see what you’re living in,” she sneers.) In Act II, Minor gently transitions from a rude and judgmental disciplinarian to a mother who cares deeply for her only child. Finally, Adam Pruden kills in his walk-on role. As Jill’s latest lover Ralph Austin, Pruden exudes conceited cockiness with swagger and a checkered suit. It’s a small role, however Pruden leaves a big impression.

Considerable credit should clearly go to director Linda M. Granger and assistant director Angela Dill for the strong acting, smooth scene transitions and coordination of all technical elements of the production. It is impossible, however, to overstate the value and selection of a good script. In this case, Granger and her company give “Butterflies” flight with great preparation and care.

“Butterflies are Free”

Starlight Dinner Theatre 7:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday, March 14-15 (6:30 p.m. dinner) Waverly East Cafetorium, 3131 W. Michigan Ave., Lansing. Dinner reservations required 48 hours in advance. Show and dinner: $33/$28 seniors and students/$20 children 12 and under. Show only: $15/$10 seniors, students and children. (517) 243-6040, starlightdinnertheatre.com