'Butterflies' in the round at Community

Friday, August 5, 2011
Don Baker (Dalton Reeves) and Jill Tanner (Kaylea King) confront their fears -- and each other in 'Butterflies are free,' the Smokehouse Summer Theatre Production that opens next week at Community High School. (T-G Photo by Mary Reeves)

When Community's Smokestack Summer Theatre opens its production of "Butterflies are Free" next week, there won't be a bad seat in the house. In fact -- there won't be anyone sitting in the house.

"We're doing a theater-in-the-round," said Director Tony Davis. "Everyone will be seated on the stage in an arena-style production."

This means that only 70 people will be able to attend each performance, so extra performances have been scheduled, and if those are sold out, another one could be added.

So far, the play is set to run Friday and Saturday, Aug. 12-13 at 7 p.m. and Sunday Aug. 14 at 2 p.m. Tickets are $3 each. To get them, contact Davis at 212-7867 or any members of the cast and crew. Those arriving early will be treated to live performances of '60s music.

Davis chose the in-the-round format for several reasons.

"It's set in the late 1960s and there was very much kind of a communal thing going on then," he said. "I asked myself -- how can I add that vibe?"

Then there's the fact that, despite being billed as a comedy, "Butterflies" is an emotional play, and having the audience right there, often only inches away from the performances, intensifies that emotion.

The play is about a young man with a secret (no spoilers allowed) who finally moves out from his mother's home to his own apartment in the city, urged on by a young woman he loves, who leaves him soon after.

Set in 1969, it is two years after the "Summer of Love," and the hippie culture is alive and well. The young man, Don Baker, played with subtle skill and empathy by Dalton Reeves, meets it head on when he meets his new next-door neighbor, Jill Tanner, played by Kaylea King.

Both son and mother (Tawny Helton) show a change of heart after the second woman walks out of Don's life. (T-G Photo by Mary Reeves)

Capturing the 1960's flavors of groovy psychedelia some 40 years later posed a problem for Davis.

"Dalton's girlfriend, Jenny Grissom, did the costumes," he said. "She said it would be too easy to make the costumes look like Halloween costumes and said 'Let's tone it down.' I thought she was right and I applied that to every aspect of the show."

So, there won't be any Laugh-In moments of gogo-dancers, or pot-smoking Cheech and Chong wannabes saying "Groooooovy, man" while flashing peace signs. But the core of the conflicted era -- standoffs between the old and new, traditional and free-spirited -- is well represented.

"The themes in this play are as important as they ever were," said Davis. "At the heart of it, you find a surprisingly conservative message."

Of course, you also find plenty of laughs. Tawny Helton, playing Mrs. Baker, gets some of the best lines as Suburban Eisenhower Supermom clashes head on with both her son's flighty, free-wheeling girlfriend, and Ralph Austin, played by Jordan Powell, who suffers from an almost criminal case of foot-in-mouth disease.

It's a small cast, and every player is either a Community student (Helton, a rising senior) or an alum (Reeves, '03, King, '10. Powell '10).

"It is an all-star cast," said Davis.

Jill (Kaylea King) forces a greeting between Don, left (Dalton Reeves) and her new love interest, Ralph Austin (Jordan Powell). (T-G Photo by Mary Reeves)

They've all played on the Community stage before, either with Smokehouse or the school production, usually both. Reeves performs often with the Little Theater in Murfreesboro and of the three Best Actor nominations for this year's local theater awards ceremony, he is nominated for two of them. That doesn't keep him away from home, though. Reeves has been back on more than one occasion, including two years ago, when he directed two one-act plays for the summer show.

"And he did virtually every show here when he was a student," said Davis.

King is majoring in theater at MTSU and acted in an independent film this year, and Jordan, majoring in mass communication there, continues to hone his talents on the local stage. Many recall his performance as the Scarecrow in the Smokehouse production of "The Wizard of Oz." Helton still has her senior year to look forward to, but has already been very productive in high school performances, with roles in both "The Adventures of Tom Sawyer" and "Man of La Mancha."

With Mark Gregory working the sound and Davis directing, there is a definite sense of Community community going on. The theater-in-the-round shares that intimacy with its audience and it's way, way more than groovy.

If you go

'Butterflies are Free' begins at 7 p.m. Aug. 12-13 and 2 p.m. Aug. 14 at Community High School. Tickets are $3 each. Contact Anthony Davis at 212-7867 for more information. Seating is limited.