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The story

It's Christmas Eve in Fryeburg Maine, and Hank Tater has fallen on hard times. He wakes up to find his house surrounded by totem poles, his baby still in need of a name, and his wife ready to split for Howard Johnson's. It would take a miracle to get his life back together, but miracles come to pass--a toe walks to the hospital, the Three Kings stop by, and a married couple rediscovers their love for one another.

Reviews

"Embedded within the witty and often very funny dialogue is a sometimes uneasy treatise on the complications of marriage, family and domestic bliss. It is to MacLeod's credit that she handles these situations with a genuine fondness for her wacky characters, treating them with a kind understanding. The result is a charming, eccentric comedy." --The Chicago Sun-Times ("Highly recommended")

"MacLeod's writing displays a remarkable tenderness for the unhappiness of the latter-day, hinterland male..." --Chris Jones, The Chicago Tribune

"A witty and humane comedy of married life..." --Richard Christiansen, The Chicago Tribune

Author's notes

A trickle of peculiar memories was recently released by hearing an old Beatles song. When last I heard that song I was a teen-ager visiting a girlfriend in a completely unfurnished McMansion on Long Island. She and her divorced mother were living there with a Dutch tulip importer. That is, the importer was Dutch as well as the tulips. He was a merry, florid, Falstaffian man and the evening took on a surreal cast as I watched this Dutchman dance around his empty living room to The Ballad of John and Yoko, surrounded only by tubs of tulips. Had the furniture been re-possessed? Or had it never been bought? Perhaps the family was just a few bounced rent checks away from moving on? In any case, it dawned on me that strange things happen in my plays because strange things happen.

When I was thirteen I lived on a commune in Vermont. Because we couldn't drive yet my friend and I would regularly hitch-hike into town. One day, a yellow Volkswagen bug convertible, driven by two older hippie girls from the commune, came to a stop. They told us to hop in quickly, and casually said they were in kind of a hurry. Why? Because one of them had just cut her pinky off in the restaurant meat slicer and they were taking it to the hospital in Burlington to be sewn back on. They cheerfully held up a little white handkerchief chrysalis, with spots of red just beginning to seep through. A missing digit later found its way into APOCALYPTIC BUTTERFLIES but the play was actually inspired by another story.

A Maine cousin's eccentric neighbor had a load of totem poles delivered to his son's front yard. Nobody was exactly sure what the father was driving at, but he was clearly driving at something: something about gods and nature and family. The son saw only that a bizarre, grass-killing totem pole pile had been dumped on his hard-won lawn. Which is where our story begins.

The play begins and ends with an unusual event, but by the end of the play the strangeness verges on the miraculous. I'm interested in the collision between the everyday and the transcendent, those moments when ordinary life takes a hairpin turn, causing us to perceive the world differently. Flipping through an old draft of APOCALYPTIC BUTTERFLIES, I realized that I had misspelled the word transcendent, not once but many times; and I thought isn't that humanity in a nutshell? We strive for transcendence, misspelling it all the while.

Press bibliograohy

Christiansen, Richard. "'Butterflies' is a tender showcase of familial crisis turning into domestic bliss." Chicago Tribune 18 November 1988.

Houlihan, Mary. "Flighty 'Butterflies' free to entertain with its dark humour." Chicago Sun-Times 2 July 2003.

Erstein, Hap. "Daughter's visit home sends up the curtain." The Washington Times 29 November 1991.

Erstein, Hap. "Easy laughs, performances set the 'Butterflies' free." The Washington Times 28 November 1991.

Jones, Chris. "'Butterflies' frees the audience to feel its pain." Chicago Tribune 25 June 2003.

McCulloh, T.H. "'Butterflies': View of a Marriage." Los Angeles Times 14 November 1990.

Rose, Lloyd. "'Butterflies': High-Flying Innocence." The Washington Post 27 November 1991.

 

Production Photos
Collaboraction, Chicago, directed by Kimberly Senior. (photos by Salverio Truglia)