Aspiring actress Jill Tanner is a vivacious free-spirit who won’t be tied down.
Her neighbour, Don Baker, is about as regimented as you can get. As a young blind musician trying to live on his own, Don knows the exact number of steps it takes to get to the laundry, the delicatessen or anywhere else he needs to go.
When Jill meets Don in the play Butterflies Are Free, sparks fly and values clash.
“It is not an easy relationship,” said Tanya Ryga, who’s directing the romantic comedy for Central Alberta Theatre.
“Just as he starts to fall in love with her, she pushes him away.”
This four-person, flower-power play from 1969 was turned into a popular 1972 film that helped launch Goldie Hawn’s career. Some 30 years later, Ryga believes the Leonard Gershe script remains relevant because of its insight into relationships: Neither Jill nor Don are portrayed as having all the right answers about how to get through life.
The play also poses timely questions, such as what compels us to follow rules and when should they be broken?
Anything-goes Jill and rigid Don personify the societal struggle happening when the script was written. Ryga believes the comedy that opens on Thursday at the Nickle Studio, upstairs at Red Deer’s Memorial Centre, is all about authority versus liberty.
“The ’60s represented huge changes at every level of society.”
Not only were thousands of protesters demanding U.S. government bring soldiers home from Vietnam, but young men on the home front were showing disregard for convention by growing their hair and sporting tie-dyed shirts. Women in flowered hippie skirts were throwing away their brassieres.
“There was this huge colour explosion. … The mores of society were eroding and anything that was a societal norm was up for grabs,” said Ryga.
The theatre instructor at Red Deer College lived through the era, and is excited to be bringing it back to life in this season-opening play for CAT.
Ryga’s practical hurdle was finding authentic furniture, kitchen items, clothing and music of the 1950s and ’60s. “I didn’t want to have a cup that would read to people that the design was too modern,” said the director, who scoured thrift shops and “grandmas’ basements” for appropriate props, costumes and set pieces.
Since Don is supposed to be living in a dumpy apartment on the lower east side of Manhattan, Ryga purposely tried to find things that didn’t match — a trunk for a coffee table, for instance, or wooden crates for shelves.
A bigger challenge was working with actor Jordan Galloway, who is in RDC’s Motion Picture Arts program, on his portrayal of a man who was blind from birth.
Ryga had personal insight into this, as she grew up with a mom who lost her eyesight in her 30s from an autoimmune disease.
“I had a mother who lived through her hands,” added the director, who therefore, wanted to convey blindness “without it being hokey or disrespectful.”
Getting Galloway and actor Nicole Leal, who plays Jill, to depict falling in love without their characters being able to make eye contact was also tricky.
Ryga believes this obstacle was surmounted when Leal, an RDC theatre graduate, realized that Jill feels perceived “on every level” by Don, whose sharpened senses are hyper-aware of her presence.
This may be why Jill eventually allows herself to fall for Don, even though her love for him will limit her freedom.
He’s able to appreciate all of her attributes, not just her looks.
While Don finds his feelings for Jill “scary” because he can’t anticipate where they will lead him, Ryga believes their relationship ultimately “tears down all these walls and opens up his world.”