In a time when many folks are wondering, “What could I have done?” and “Should I have done more?”, the U.S. premiere of Debbie Tucker Green’s 2003 play dirty butterfly arrives like a bracing slap in the face. It’s a story about domestic abuse that concerns itself more with the effects of that act than with the act itself. Directed here by Azar Kazemi with sleek, stiletto-blade focus, dirty butterfly is a tough but very rewarding watch.
The play, set in an unspecified but definitively working-class London neighborhood, jumps right in as its three characters converse and argue with each other back and forth. One of them is Jo (Leah Raidt), a woman whose nightly abuse at the hands of her boyfriend can be overheard through thin walls by her neighbors Jason (Reginald Robinson Jr.) and Amelia (Genevieve VenJohnson). Jason is fascinated by the sounds, as well as by the fact that Jo, a victim who refuses to acknowledge her victimhood, knows he’s listening. Amelia on the other hand is disgusted. More than anything, she just wants these awful, distracting noises to stop. Though all three performances occasionally tip into melodrama (not to mention English accents that are uniformly dodgy), they also possess an intensity and an attention to detail that grounds the play’s stylistic flourishes.
The play begins with all three characters at once recounting their own—very different—experiences surrounding Jo’s abuse while also poking holes in the other characters’ interpretations. It’s almost like a conversation, only no one’s actually listening to each other. The set, by Milo Blue, is a series of semi-opaque platforms and backdrops, backlit so they seem like a series of windows with the shades all drawn. The effect is a world in which everyone is cut off, hidden away–their only glimpse of the outside world coming through the shadows and whispers that penetrate their walls. Sound familiar?
Blind Owl and Halcyon Theatre. By Debbie Tucker Green. Directed by Azar Kazemi. With Genevieve VenJohnson, Leah Raidt, and Reginald Robinson Jr. Running time: 1hr 10 minutes; no intermission.