Bernice/Butterfly: A Two-Part Invention

It's not often anymore that actors have plays written specifically for themselves, so the world premiere of Bernice/Butterfly: A Two-Part Invention is not only a special occasion for playwright/director Nagle Jackson, but for his two long-time friends as well, Denver Center Theatre Company favorites Kathy Brady and Jamie Horton.

(L to R) Playwright Nagle Jackson
visits with actors Kathleen M. Brady
and Jamie Horton
Photo credit: Terry Shapiro
Jackson has written two one-act monologues, each supplemented by the introduction of a second character toward the end of the act. The stories are drawn from Jackson's fondness for and interest in the lonely, withering old towns set long the blue highways of Kansas.

Kathleen M. Brady as Bernice
Photo credit: Terry Shapiro

Brady is Bernice, a waitress at the O-Kay diner, a breakfast gathering place for what remains of the locals who haven't sold off their farms, lost their jobs when the factory closed, or been blown to Kansas City and beyond. Brady's incredible range, from beaming joviality to heart-wrenching pathos, bring her one-sided conversations to life, providing us with a lively portrait of her daily customers and personal hardships. When the O. Henry-like twist comes toward the end of the act, we are left incredulous.

Jamie Horton as Randall
Photo credit: Terry Shapiro
Horton is Randall, a professor delivering an address on "The Butterfly Effect" to the American Philosophical Society. Randall's digressions, which run the gamut from theoretical nonsense to life-altering tragedy provide Horton with a wide-range of opportunities to explore his emotional palette.

The writing in this piece, however, has a couple of loose ends that prevent it from reaching the rarified heights of the first act. First, we get mixed signals regarding whether Randall really had the stuff to make it as a professor. Normally this ambiguity would not be an issue, and indeed Horton's nutty professor caricature is hilarious, but given the circumstances which ended Randall's academic career, it is a question that seems critical to defining the depth of his personal tragedy. And second, there is a lack of commitment to Randall's sexual identity that lets those responsible for his ostracism off the hook for the consequences of their prejudices. Despite this, Jackson's surprise ending for this act astounds as well.

As America's heartland disappears into corporate farms and deserted towns, Jackson's questions concerning what might have been for Bernice, Randall, and their communities are particularly disturbing and made all the more so by the quality of the performances. Bernice/Butterfly: A Two-Part Invention run through March 1st in the Ricketson Theatre. 303-893-4100.

Bob Bows


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