ARTS AND ENTERTAINMENT: Butterfly’s bizarre world

Ken Jackson as Jules, Todd's deceased father.


“Today’s prophet must look good in a suit and tie, and speak well at cocktail parties,” says the character Todd from Tom Block’s new play “Butterfly,” which premiered Wednesday at the Takoma Park Community Center.

“Butterfly” will show again on Feb. 15, 16, 22, and 23 at the community center.

The premier, presented by We Are Takoma, was powerful and startling at times, filling the auditorium with the chaotic sounds of the boisterous characters and a plucked cello.

Elliot Dash as Todd, Karim Chaibi as Abs, Anika Harden as Martini, Stephen Backus as Jan and Gigi Buscaglio as Gertie

Elliot Dash as Todd, Karim Chaibi as Abs, Anika Harden as Martini, Stephen Backus as Jan and Gigi Buscaglio as Gertie

An ancient mystic, a ditsy beautician, and a resurrected father are just a few of the characters that create this flourish of sound. They follow a modern prophet, Todd, in his struggle to share his ideals with today’s world.

“All the characters represent some aspect of the human search, but in essence they all get what they want,” said Block, who created the characters to explore themes of desire and resolution.

Block said that while other plays are based on novels or deal with family relationships, “Butterfly” centers on philosophical and existential subjects.

“It’s fresh, it’s new, it’s the world premier, it deals with very unusual themes in very unusual ways,” Block said.

Adding to this novelty and enforcing the play’s dreamlike quality, paintings of dripping and distorted figures from Block’s “Garden of the Mystical Redoubt” series hung from the stage and were seated in the audience.

“That will be part of getting your mindset into this bizarre world.” Block said of his paintings.

“The soul of the play is shared between the art work and the emotions of the actors,” said Director Roselie Vasquez-Yetter. “All elements are building around a central theme.”

“Butterfly,” the second in a series of thematically linked plays by Block, was produced by Wanderlust Theatre Lab through a very open collaboration, said the play’s producers.

“It’s so fun because the process is so experimental,” said Vasquez-Yetter, who is also the founder of Wanderlust Theatre Lab. “This is all about something new, something unpredictable.”

Elliot Dash as Todd the prophet, and Stephen Backus as his acolyte Jan.

Elliot Dash as Todd the prophet, and Stephen Backus as his acolyte Jan.

Vasquez-Yetter said she took creative liberties with several characters in the play, including the postwoman character, originally a postman, and the disembodied therapist character, because Block invited her input.

“She’s got a real wonderful theatre sense,” said Block of Vasquez-Yetter. “The point of my art is to raise questions, not give you any answers, and she gets that.”

Desiree Miller’s original cello score was also part of the collaborative spirit of the play, said Vasquez-Yetter, and fits with the surreal play.

“Her cello has a wonderfully discordant, wonderfully edgy, beautifully discombobulating sound,” said Block. “I’m taking you into a world of metaphor, and she does a very nice job of adding a whole other layer like the paintings do.”

“She has the freedom to, when she feels an emotion, to go ahead and bring it in,” said Vasquez-Yetter of Miller, who provides the actors’ only sound cues during the play.

“Trust is a humungous capitalized word in this whole process.” Vasquez-Yetter said. “It’s sometimes very hard.”

Although it may not have been easy, Block and the theatre company have reworked “Butterfly” since its reading at the Kennedy Center last September, said the play’s producers.

Block said that he hopes that “Butterfly” will be successful in Takoma Park and then move to New York City, like the first installment of his trilogy, “White Noise.”

Ken Jackson as Jules, Todd's deceased father.

Ken Jackson as Jules, Todd’s deceased father.

“It’s a dream,” said Block of his first play, which will travel to New York this summer, accompanied by Wanderlust Theatre Lab.

“It was experimental and challenging,” said premier attendee Scott Comer. Which is exactly what Block and Vasquez-Yetter intend.

“It’s different than [programs] we’ve been able to offer the community in the past,” Director of Housing and Community Development for We Are Takoma Sara Daines said of the play.

“Butterfly” will show at the community center on Feb. 15, 16, 22, and 23 at 8 p.m., and on Feb. 16 and 23 at 2 p.m. Ttickets are $20.

About the Author

Morgan Fecto
Morgan Fecto is a graduate of the Philip Merrill College of Journalism at UMD. She currently manages the "We Are Takoma" event series with the City of Takoma Park. Follow her on Twitter @MorganFecto.