“Butterflies Are Free” is a delightful diversion


milt thomas

If you saw the movie or Broadway play back in the 70s – or caught it in recent years on TV – you are in for a treat. Why? Because Butterflies are Free is currently being performed at the Riverside Theatre.

For the uninitiated, it is the story of a young man, Don Baker, who is living on his own for the first time away from his overprotective mother in Scarsdale, but in a low rent Manhattan apartment. She has given him two months to prove he is capable of making it, not because he has no work experience or skills, but because he is blind. OK, it seems like a stretch, but just go with it.

Don, played by a convincing Alec Nevin, meets the lovable, but flighty Jill Tanner (played by Allison Elaine) who lives next door and invites herself over after they have a conversation through the thin wall that separates their two apartments. She asks for a cup of coffee (that she clearly does not need) and has a delightful conversation with Don not realizing he is blind. He does an excellent job of getting around his small apartment and she apparently never looked him in the eye during their conversation.  Soon they develop affection for each other and end up having an affair. It was the age of free love, don’t forget.

Then his overbearing mother, Mrs. Baker, played by veteran actress, Laurie Carter Rose, arrives unannounced and she is appalled at the sight of Jill in her underwear and Don in his small, dinghy apartment. The non-stop repartee among the three of them keeps the audience roaring until Don goes to buy some groceries for the dinner he and Jill planned for 7:30 that evening. This provides Mrs. Baker with the opportunity to paint a picture to Jill of the miserable life they would have together because of his blindness. Don returns and Jill goes to an audition.

Mrs. Baker confronts Don and his girlfriend/neighbor, Jill.

Don and his mother eventually make nice until Jill returns six hours later with the director, Ralph, played by veteran Alec Ricardo Ruiz. They announce that she is moving in with him (he must have a larger supply of coffee). Don is, of course, shocked and his mother is not.

We don’t want give away any more because you definitely have to go and experience it for yourself.

Allison Elaine is simply delightful throughout, owning most of the laugh-inducing dialogue, and flitting around the stage like a one-person tennis match. Alec Nevin handles his blindness so well, it seems like less of a handicap than dealing with his mother. For some in the audience, it might be reminiscent of what their own life was like in the early 70s.  Laurie Carter Rose demonstrates her veteran acting creds as she transitions from the domineering, rich woman into a caring Mom. Alec Ricardo Ruiz’s role is relatively minor compared to the other three, but he occupies it well.

The performances, setting, lighting and sound are perfect, and in the end, it makes for a perfect afternoon or evening at the theater.

Butterflies Are Free performs through November 13 on the Stark Stage at Riverside. Tickets start at $45 and can be purchased by calling the box office 772-231-6990 or online www.riversidetheatre.com.

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