Thursday, January 23 marked the opening night for Deepali Productions’ Wake, Butterfly. Sincere, emotional, and eye-opening, Wake, Butterfly is a play about surmounting trauma and finding beauty in life when such a task seems impossible.
Bain St. Michel is an emptied swimming pool turned into an in situ space of creation that occasionally serves as an improvised theatre. The building is a little eerie and seems to be perpetually threatening guests to break apart at any time. Its narrow width forces spectators to sit tightly next to one another, making for a slighty claustrophobic feel. While this unconventional setting heightened the visible apprehension in the room, it certainly created an interesting and unique viewing experience.
The two-act play focuses on Laura, a young Canadian adult whose life is burdened with questions of self-consciousness, disrespectful sexual partners, and poor life decisions. A nameless girl from Bombay’s red light district recounts her lifelong battle against sexual abuse and her longing for freedom. A striking element from the script stemmed from this character’s anonymity. While names are usually seen as central to shaping our identity in our own lives, they are always highly symbolic in fiction. The Bombay-born character stands out as the centerpiece of the play, with Laura acting as a direct foil. This makes the decision not to name her
slightly baffling, as it makes her more difficult to relate to.
The two women, who we are introduced to after they have died, meet in a purgatory where they are told that only one of them will have the opportunity to return to the world of the living. After recounting their life stories and traumatic experiences to one another, both women initially agree that their lives are not worth returning to.
Deepali Lindblom, portraying the Bombay-born girl, truly brought the play to life with her excellent acting and dancing skills. Indeed, the Montreal-based actress and dancer, who founded Deepali Productions in 2010 and is renowned for her hit show Poutine Masala, graced the audience with a visually pleasing and inventive choreography representing the blissful feeling of freedom and happiness – one of the show’s high points. Kristina Sandev, in the role of Laura, a character many spectators probably have less trouble identifying with, seemed to take pleasure in performing her role with a sardonic edge.
Wake, Butterfly, written by the young and emerging playwright Vishesh Abeyratne, struck an excellent balance between comedy and drama, which must have been a challenge due to the complex and sensitive nature of the play. Additionally, the dialogue between both women from completely different backgrounds juxtaposed their problems in a subtle yet revealing manner. This technique permitted the author to articulate his views in favour of feminism, open-mindedness, acceptance, and obstructed spectators from judging any one character.
The set, stripped of any unnecessary artifice, was merely composed of an immaculate white sheet used for shadow play in the middle of two additional panels on which diverse lighting effects were projected. A low pedestal on the right hand side of the stage served as a safe space of confession. Both women took turns recounting their lives, while standing atop this pedestal, inciting spectators to empathize with them equally and to view their experiences of trauma as equally worthy of attention.
The playwright did his best to depict the difficulty of navigating the gap between these two sets of problems in an egalitarian fashion. Still, it was still too easy for audiences to feel the urge to pity Laura for her inability to see that her problems were mainly self-inflicted, while the nameless Bombay-born girl was affected by her environment. There’s also the issue of whether it’s in any way productive to attempt to compare the experiences of these two characters, since it invites the audience to see a false equivalency. While the juxtaposition of these two women’s lives offered audiences perspective on the experience of being a woman in the 21st century, Laura’s character would have benefited from seeming less comedic and naïve. The play as a whole could also have benefited from some discussion of race and oppression. Why, for instance, in the cosmology of the play, is it considered acceptable to lay the problems of two people next to each other and judge which one is more worthy of life? During the discussion following the play, the audience learned that the play had taken four years to write. While Lindblom’s character was rapidly confected, Sandev’s character was more laborious to develop, which was clear from the beginning of the play.
The effectiveness of this play on the lives of two women from different backgrounds with shared traumatic experiences does not lie in its minimalist set design, dim lighting, or occasional sound effects, but in the quality of its script and the subtlety of its performers’ acting skills. Wake, Butterfly is essentially about seeing the beauty of life when all seems to be going wrong, and will certainly force audiences to find a way to appreciate their own lives.