The story of Butter-Flashes unfolds as a series of flashbacks on the family life of incarcerated killer Queen (Erica Ball) and her mother, Butterfly (Cynthia Moran). It starts with a pantomimed family visit from cousin Maureen (Teresa Lester, who could only be described as delightfully coltish in her performance), daughter of Butterfly's sister Jewel (Tonya Ross). It appears that Queen is inside for killing her stepfather, the brutish, selfish, and pompous Marco (played to the melodramatic hilt by Vishnu Kashee). It develops in the course of the play that Butterfly puts up with Marco as much out of habit as anything - perhaps just to have a man around the house - but draws the line at his hitting her or her daughters. When he crosses the line, it is actually Butterfly who kills him; Queen takes the knife and pretends that she did it (perhaps to save her mother from being tried as an adult?). At the beginning of the dialog, Queen is refusing to talk to her mother and generally acting stubborn during a visit from her sister, Ruth (earnestly played by Peggy Coburn), who apparently isn't in on the family secret. The purpose of the unfolding scenes is to explain why Queen is behaving as she does, culminating in the revelation of the real murderer.
The chief virtues of this short production were the naturalness of the play's dialog and the sincerity of the actors' performances, regardless of their varying levels of technique. No doubt both qualities are attributable to playwright/director Ealy. It was also fascinating to see the lives of an inner-city African-American family portrayed with an unassuming realism that bespoke familiarity.
Production values (a sparse unit set in a black box) were minimal but quite adequate, although the murder (and a fantasy murder, which took place somewhere in Queen's head) could have been more effectively staged.
The least successful element of the play was the tenuous connection between scenes, which leapt backwards and forwards in time (in keeping with the title) in a way that sometimes made for bewilderment. The truth at the core of the play was not always put to good use in sustaining its drama. (Also featuring Trevor Archer and Reynaldo Rodriguez.)
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Copyright 1998 John Chatterton