Imagine growing up in a world that is so devastatingly destroyed that butterflies no longer exist! The butterfly is a multifaceted metaphor in the Forest Moon Theater’s production of Celeste Raspanti’s I Never Saw Another Butterfly. Its image brings to mind the beauty and fragility of the natural world. At the same time, it suggests the final stage of development, a stage that can be reached only when a caterpillar (or a child) has been able to mature in a healthy, nurturing environment.
Even though a plethora of historical and artistic works document the horrors of The Holocaust, Raspanti’s play steers the conversation in a timely direction by focusing on the question, “What about the children?” How does a catastrophe like this appear through the innocent eyes of children? How do children deal with the loss? How can they possibly survive? How can they “move on” in a world without “butterflies”?
The play is set in a concentration camp in Terezin, Czechoslovakia, during World War II, a facility to which a total of 15,000 children who had just been separated from their families were sent; but the issues it raises are universal. Forest Moon Theater’s presentation of I Never Saw Another Butterfly, directed by Judy M. Dove at the Wake Forest Renaissance Centre for the Arts in Wake Forest, NC, invites the audience to join this conversation.
The central character, Raja Englanderova, based on the lives of these children and played with passion by Amanda Smith, introduces herself to the audience as a survivor. She recreates the ordeal faced by children of The Holocaust as she narrates and relives her memories. The children’s teacher, Irena Synkova (a determined Bonnie Webster) is intent on rescuing and restoring the humanity of these victimized children. The initial interaction between these two characters contains the magic that makes possible the metamorphoses in Raja’s life. Especially touching is Irena’s explanation of the events that led her to becoming a teacher, a narrative that will inspire and empower Raja.
Among the strengths in this production are the lighting shifts (courtesy of Alyssa Petrone), the sound effects (the handiwork of John Maruca), and the costumes (designed by Kahei Shum). Sound and light recreate the poignant moments in the lives of Holocaust children. We can feel the arrivals and departures of the “freight trains” that ship people away from life-as-they-have-known-it and the encroachment of war into what is left of their lives. Likewise, sound and light create the surreal realities of Raja’s memories of coping with life in the camp.
Also moving is what can only be termed “performance art” — choreographed movements of the children while Raja narrates, movements that often lead to “freeze frame” moments indicative of the plight these children face.
There is a touching scene of a traditional Jewish wedding being conducted under a makeshift canopy, which shows the family desperately holding on to the customs and traditions away from which they are being wrenched. As the groom’s aunt Vera, Louise Farmer adds a bit of cameo verisimilitude to the event.
The weakest part of the production is in the “family life” scenes. The acting is somewhat wooden and unconvincing. Hopefully, this will improve as the production matures.
From the Department of Picky-Picky: Even though the above-mentioned sound effects worked quite well, the facility’s sound system does not deliver amplified voice recordings as satisfactorily. There are key points — during the reading of a letter and a poem — at which this shortcoming was evident.
SECOND OPINION: Feb. 10th Raleigh, NC CVNC review Alan R. Hall: https://cvnc.org/article.cfm?articleId=9273; Feb. 10th Raleigh, NC Triangle Arts and Entertainment review Susie Potter: https://triangleartsandentertainment.org/2019/02/gripping-and-powerful-forest-moon-theaters-i-never-saw-another-butterfly-has-a-profound-effect-on-audiences/; and Jan. 24th Cary, NC RDU on Stage podcast interview with director Judy M. Dove and Holocaust educator Sheldon “Shelly” Bleiweiss, conducted by Lauren Van Hemert: https://rduonstage.com/2019/01/24/director-judy-dove-and-holocaust-educator-sheldon-bleiwess-talk-about-the-significance-of-forest-moon-theatres-production-of-i-never-saw-another-butterfly/.
The Forest Moon Theater presents I NEVER SAW ANOTHER BUTTERFLY at 3 p.m. Feb. 10, 7:30 p.m. Feb. 15 and 16, and 3 p.m. Feb. 17 at the Wake Forest Renaissance Centre for the Arts, 405 S. Brooks St., Wake Forest, North Carolina 27587.
TICKETS: $15 ($13 students 18 and under and seniors 65+) in advance and $18 ($16 students 18 and under and seniors 65+) at the door (sold at the door, 5 minutes before curtain).
BOX OFFICE: 919-435-2001, firstname.lastname@example.org, or https://www.brownpapertickets.com/event/3221467.
GROUP RATES (10+ tickets): 919-435-2001 or email@example.com.
SHOW: https://forestmoontheater.org/i-never-saw-another-butterfly/ and https://www.facebook.com/events/1989207524526912/.
2018-19 SEASON: https://forestmoontheater.org/season-passes-for-2018-2019/.
PRESENTER: http://www.forestmoontheater.org/, https://www.facebook.com/forestmoontheater, https://twitter.com/FMTheater, and https://www.youtube.com/user/ForestMoonTheater?feature=mhee.
VENUE: https://www.wakeforestrencen.org/, https://www.facebook.com/WFRenaissanceCentre, and https://twitter.com/WFRenCen.
NOTE 1: The Wake Forest Children’s Choir will perform before the show’s 7:30 p.m. Saturday, Feb. 16th, performance, starting at 7 p.m.
NOTE 2: There will be a free post-show discussion, with Holocaust educator Sheldon “Shelly” Bleiweiss, following the show’s 7:30 p.m. Saturday, Feb. 16th, performance.
I Never Saw Another Butterfly (1971 play): https://www.dramaticpublishing.com/i-never-saw-another-butterfly-i22000 (Dramatic Publishing) and https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/I_Never_Saw_Another_Butterfly#The_Play (Wikipedia).
The Script: http://books.google.com/ (Google Books).
Study Guide: http://www.weidnercenter.com/files/2017/04/Another-Butterfly-Study-Guide.pdf (Weidner Center for the Performing Arts of Green Bay, WI).
Celeste Raspanti (Chicago-born St. Paul, MN playwright): https://www.dramaticpublishing.com/authors/profile/view/url/celeste-raspanti (Dramatic Publishing) and https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Celeste_Raspanti (Wikipedia).
Judy M. Dove (Raleigh, NC director and North Raleigh Arts and Creative Theatre office administrator): https://www.facebook.com/judy.dove.71 (Facebook page).
Pamela Vesper has been a Raleigh resident for more than 20 years. A local attorney for licensed professionals, when she’s not in court, Pam can be found watching or participating in local theater productions or enjoying the vibrant Raleigh music and craft beer scene. She also loves indie and foreign films and was an anchor on the local cable show, Movie Minutes. Pam has an opinion on just about everything; just ask her. Kurt Benrud is a graduate of Cary High School and N.C. State University, and he has taught English at both. He first became involved in local theater in 1980. He has served on the board of directors for both the Cary Players and the Cary Playwrights’ Forum. He is also a volunteer reader with Triangle Radio Reading Service. Click here to read their reviews for Triangle Review and Triangle Arts and Entertainment.