Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: Florida - West Coast

I Never Saw Another Butterfly
Venice Theatre

Also see Bill's review of The Secret Garden

Cheryl Andrews and Haley Faye
Venice Theatre is presenting I Never Saw Another Butterfly by Celeste Raspanti as the opening production of their Generations Series. This series is intended to bring different generations that are part of the theater together on a production, and that will appeal to audiences of varying ages.

I Never Saw Another Butterfly tells the story of the children of Terezin, a "former military garrison set up as a ghetto" during World War II. When Terezin was liberated, only approximately 100 children remained. The play imagines the life of one of the survivors, Raja Englanderova, played by Haley Faye, a 16-year-old student at Booker High School for the Performing Arts also enrolled in Venice Theatre education program. She gives a very moving performance. The first time she is seen, she has the hollow look seen in prisoners at concentration camps. Her first few scenes are her strongest, especially when reacting to Cheryl Andrews as Irena, a teacher. When Irena tries to bring Raja toward her, Raja jumps, unable at this time to accept connection to another (today we would call it PTSD). Cheryl Andrews is all warmth and compassion, trying to survive the unimaginable and keep the children as safe as she possibly can. Yet when her time comes to be called to death, she runs to her fate, leaving the surviving to Raja.

Ric Goodwin as Father, Amy Pickens as Mother, and Nick Winkelmeyer as brother Pavel convey the dignity of a religious Jewish family. Brady Cooper is excellent as Raja's love interest Honza, all young cockiness. Bennett Gross does an expert job as the Rabbi (he participated in a production of this play 15 years ago at Venice Theatre, when he played the Father). Claudia Hassler plays Renka, Anna Sand-Lambert is Irca, and Lauren Andrews, Sarah Baron, McKenna Dalton, Ryan Hunek, Ava Pickens, and Ava Podewitz are all excellent as other children of Terezin. Natalie Taylor and Haley Vidolin complete the cast as German guards and double as narrators. All of the young people show great stage skills; most of them are also part of Venice Theatre's education programs. A scene at the school in which the children put on a dance that involves Honza in a mask that represents evil is a highlight of the play.

Everything about I Never Saw Another Butterfly shows Venice Theatre at its best. As the audience enters the Pinkerton Theater, they walk down a corridor cluttered with suitcases, shoes and other personal articles, setting the tone of Germany during the war and concentration camps. The production is staged in the round and the walls of the theater are covered in fencing, for adding additional atmosphere. The scenic design by Brian Freeman, costumes by Chelsea Sorensen, and lighting design by John Michael Andzulis all help make the production riveting. Artistic Director Murray Chase has directed a fine physical production and gets fine performances from his cast.

Unfortunately, I attended the final performance so I can not recommend you hurry to the theater to see it. I can, however suggest the following upcoming productions: Exit Laughing, September 29 - October 18, 2015; Church Basement Ladies, October 2 - 25, 2015; The Beauty Queen of Leenane, November 5 - 22, 2015. And don't forget the upcoming production of Hair, directed by Ben Vereen, who was in the original Broadway production, November 9 - December 13, 2015.

Venice Theater presented I Never Saw Another Butterfly through September 20, 2015. 140 West Tampa Ave., Venice, FL. Box Office (941) 488-1115

Director: Murray Chase, Stage Manager: Jim Podewitz, Scenic Designer: Brian Freeman, Lighting Designer: John Michael Andzulis, Sound Designer: Dorian Boyd, Costume Designer: Chelsea Sorensen

Photo: Renee McVety, Provided by Venice Theatre

--William S. Oser

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