The 1969 Broadway smash Butterflies Are Free gets a topnotch Hollywood Fringe 2015 revival with an extra something—a cross-cultural spin that adds some Persian spice to Leonard Gershe’s already “groovy” mix.
Hollywood buffs will recall Butterflies Are Free from its 1972 movie adaptation starring Edward Albert as 20-year-old Don Baker, blind since birth and eager to declare his independence from Mama (Eileen Heckart in her Oscar-winning supporting turn) by moving away from his suburban home and into his own big city apartment.
The arrival next door of nineteen-year-old divorcee—and would-be actress—Jill Tanner (a very young Goldie Hawn) offers Don hope of recovering from a recently broken heart, that is if Mama will keep her promise to stay away one more month.
Since Butterflies Are Free takes place over the course of about eight hours, you can guess whether Mrs. Baker keeps her promise or not.
Giving this 1100-plus-performance Broadway gem an added something at the Fringe is having Iranian-American actress Shila Vosough Ommi portray Mrs. Baker as a Persian emigree and Persian-Australian up-and-comer Mojean Aria play Don as her Americanized son, with snippets of Gershe’s dialog translated into Farsi, resulting in a mother whose possessiveness is as much cultural as maternal.
The gorgeous Ommi demonstrates dramatic and comedic chops in equal measure (and directorial talents as well), a stellar Aria makes us believe in Don’s blindness and his pureness of heart, Rebecca Forsythe proves herself a marvelous comedienne without copying Goldie, and Jesse Pimentel turns in a terrific supporting turn as a pretentious young hotshot off-Broadway director.
Assistant director Damian Kerr has created a scenic-lighting-production design that gives this Fringe offering an almost fully-staged look, with Jess Mila Levy’s spot-on late-’60s costumes and Jeff Jones’ period-perfect hair-and-makeup completing a topnotch-for-Fringe design. Caitlin Rucker is stage manager.
The large number of Iranian-Americans in attendance at the performance reviewed suggests a need for more shows like this one from Turquoise Heart Productions. Factor in folks like this reviewer who can’t get enough of forgotten Broadway gems, and you’ve got a recipe for more 99-seat theater magic in months to come.
June 27, 2015