The gang's all here

Sweet Butterfly on an Alligator's Lip

By Richard Lay
Directed by Gus Smythe
Sage Theatre Company
Tribeca Playhouse
Equity showcase (closed)
Review by Sheila Mart

This piece offers a fairly predictable and occasionally amusing comment on the social effects of clinical depression. Sweet Butterfly on an Alligator's Lip is set in Charleston, South Carolina in the house of a wealthy middle-aged widow, Lavinia (Cam Kornman). She and her companion, Buster (Kevin McKelvy) are recently released inmates from a mental hospital. Both Lavinia and Buster are still dependent on drugs for their mental stability and survival in the outside world - thus they appear to be on an equal footing. However, as this is the South (albeit the present day), and because Lavinia is white and Buster is black, they are not totally equal; Lavinia has designated Buster as her "butler." While he accepts this on one level, he doesn't fail to observe and comment on Lavinia's compulsion to wash down her pills with liquor. She takes a humorous attitude toward this and makes no secret to him of the extent of her wealth. At the same time, as sick as she is, she is aware enough to know that he is hoping she will leave at least a good portion of her money to him when she dies. His confession of true love for Lavinia leaves her unmoved and totally understanding of his motives. Into this situation come two other characters, Pump (Jim Thalman) and Vanya (Ali Anderson), whom we are led to believe are ex-inmates of the same hospital. We can only assume that they found their way to Lavinia's abode having heard of her financial status. Pump and Vanya are rather shallow characters and seem somewhat superfluous. The dynamics between Lavinia and Buster might have been better-served and produced more individual depth, without the addition of Pump and Vanya - the latter, for some unexplainable reason, pretends to be from Eastern Europe before she reveals she is actually a New Yorker.

Now it seems the stage is set for how and when Pump, Vanya, and Buster plan to bump off the old lady for her money. But Lavinia is well ahead of them - she knows that this is what they are planning and chides them on it. She is humorously philosophical about her fate and is perhaps waiting to leave this world.

This production was carefully and smoothly directed by Gus Smythe - not an easy accomplishment, given the ephemeral nature of the piece.

Kornman's performance was a perfect gem - if this actress is not a real Southerner, she certainly could be; McKelvy provided the right foil for Kornman in a rather thankless role; and Thalman and Anderson adequately provided the level of shallowness which was given to them.

The costumes (uncredited) worked well for everyone. The lights and sound design of Louis Lopardi were most effective and helped set the mood of the piece perfectly. The set (unaccredited) provided a totally believable atmosphere.

Box Score:

Writing: 1

Directing: 2

Acting: 1

Set: 2

Costumes: 2

Lighting/Sound: 2

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Copyright 2000 Sheila Mart