"Butterflies Are Free" is just as delightful now as it was '69, bringing back a little free love nostalgia!

Something old, something new, something wicked & wild in this week’s reviews!

Diablo Actors Ensemble (DAE) first found its wings in The Parkside Theatre located in Baldwin Park in Concord around 30 years ago, in 1977, under the expertise of Artistic Director Scott Fryer. This delightful theatre company, which was at that point, quite rudimentary, performed in such a small theatre building, that the actors sometimes had to change costumes in the park, behind the public building that served as its original venue. But, in that this little theatre was near my original home in Concord, I was fortunate to discover DAE and find some really talented thespians who wanted to share their love of theatre with the world. My primal love for little theatre was rekindled and I began looking for opportunities to reconnect with my enthusiasm for amateur theatre. Mr. Fryer eventually moved on to the Willows Theatre as Artistic Director for a time, then began directing plays in numerous theatres around the East Bay, including but not limited to Center Repertory Company, Contra Costa Musical Theater, Town Hall Theatre in Lafayette, and many, many more. He has received “9” Shellie awards for his work as a producer and director.

When Lois Grandi, the hard working director of the Playhouse West Theatre, found that she could not sustain her vision for a financially viable professional theatre in her little “49” seat theatrical venue in Walnut Creek, she decided it was time to stop the hemorrhaging of heart and soul, and move on. Scott Fryer heard that her space would be available to an enterprising community theatre company, and in short order, he jumped at the chance and took over Lois Grandi’s original space at 1345 Locust Street in Walnut Creek, very recently. Ergo- - something old, has become something new, again, reborn in Walnut Creek. DAE has come out of semi-retirement with great prospects for the future.

DAE has a very specific vision for this little theatre, which is to select theatrical pieces that work especially well in small intimate spaces, and that is exactly what he has done for his season’s opener. Many of you may remember a delightful comedy play that opened in 1969, that was so successful on Broadway that it was re-envisioned for the movie screen version of Butterflies Are Free in 1972. This highly successful comedy featured a couple of very talented young actors, Goldie Hawn and Edward Albert.

Goldie Hawn graduated from teaching ballet and dance classes, to a chorus line dancer, into a television phenomenon as one of the regular cast members on the 1960s sketch comedy show, Rowan & Martin's Laugh-In. On the show, she would often break out into high-pitched giggles in the middle of a joke, and deliver a polished performance a moment after. Noted equally for her chipper attitude as well as for her curvaceous bikini-clad and painted body, Hawn personified something of a 1960s “It-Girl”. This persona was parlayed into three popular film appearances in the late 1960s and early 1970s: Cactus Flower, There's a Girl in My Soup, and the aforementioned Butterflies are Free. Edward Albert went on to be declared the “most promising new young male actor” of 1972.

The plot revolves around a young Manhattan blind man whose controlling mother (from upscale Scarsdale) disapproves of his relationship with a free-spirited hippie. The title was inspired by a passage in Charles Dickens’, “Bleak House”: "I only ask to be free. The butterflies are free. Mankind will surely not deny to Harold Skimpole what it concedes to the butterflies."
What makes this production so special is the remarkable professional level cast selected by Director Scott Fryer with Joel Roster as Don Baker (the young blind man), Ginny Wehrmeister as Jill Tanner, the sexy, curvaceous, dumb-blond (in character only) neighbor, Ann Kendrick as Florence Baker (Don’s overprotective mother) and Vince Faso as Ralph Austin (the manipulative theatrical agent), who attempts to lure Jill away! Wow! What terrific acting!

The show is overflowing with mild but funny adult sexual innuendos in a delightful script. Butterflies Are Free is poignant and uplifting with a multitude of smart, clever insights into human frailty that truly makes it a valuable and fun-filled experience. This production is superbly produced and directed by Mr. Fryer. The Diablo Actors Ensemble (DAE) Theatre is located at 1345 Locust Street, in downtown Walnut Creek, right next door to Peet’s Coffee. Butterflies Are Free plays Thursdays at 8 p.m., Fridays at 2 p.m. (special showing primarily for Rossmoor Residents) and again at 8 p.m., Saturdays at 2 p.m. and 8 p.m., and Sundays at 2 p.m., now through July 19th. You can also call to reserve tickets for any shows other than the Rossmoor Special shows by calling (925) 482- 5110, or check their website at www.diabloactors.com or email them at daeinfo@comcast.net for more information or to purchase tickets on line. Ticket prices range from as low at $10 on Thursday evenings, to $25 general admission. Take a friend and enjoy some really excellent theatre.

“Bunco Babes and Poker Pals” is a brand new play, that was a little rough on opening day!

Also, in the “Something New” department, just opening in the Onstage Theatre of Pleasant Hill, is a new modern comedy, entitled “Bunco Babes and Poker Pals”, penned by local playwright Laura Means Berchdorf. While this is a new play that is wending its way down that rocky path from initial idea, to pen and paper, to fully staged production, the opening was a little rough but contained some really good material and a number of fun-filled and poignant moments.
Take a bunch of blue-collar working guys who like to play poker and a bunch of gals who like to play a social dice game called Bunco, mix in a little gossip and matrimonial high-jinks and you have the basic premise for “Bunco Babes and Poker Pals”.

More than that, what author Berchdorf has done, is turn this playtime for adult pals into a forum for social awareness and matrimonial understanding and growth. This new play has some really great material and heartwarming concepts, poignancy and very clever humor, but it really lacked the final polish it needed before presentation on opening night. Granted, while the actors for the most part really delivered some excellent portrayals of their characters, there was a definite problem with continuity, dropped lines, fading delivery, choppiness, missed cues, cumbersome scene changes and awkward timing. I really liked the storyline and Laura’s rough-hewn humor, but frankly, I was very confused as to when each act, and the story itself, in fact, reached its climax. Some of the actors are really quite excellent, while a couple of others need more guidance and work to bring their performances up to a level that is comparable to the others, so that the whole show is well balanced. Some actors have their characters down pat, but at the same time, they definitely need to speak up, project more and to project on an even keel as some have the habit of dropping their level of projection at the end of their sentences, allowing them to fall off until their lines become hard to hear and understand. Apparently, director Helen Means has got to carry a bigger stick!

Laura Berchdorf has written other plays, one of which was uproariously funny, to which I gave a rave review a couple of years ago, entitled “Eulogies”. This current one still needs a lot of work before it is polished! As each performance gives the company more time to fully embrace their characters and get the scene changes to move more smoothly, the show will become much more enjoyable.

“Bunco Babes and Poker Pals” plays Thursdays at 8p.m., Fridays and Saturdays at 8:30 p.m. and Sundays at 2:30 p.m., now through June 29th. The theater is located in the old Schoolhouse Cultural Center at 2050 Oak Park Blvd., in Pleasant Hill, a the corner of Pleasant Hill Road and Oak Park Blvd., in Pleasant Hill. Call (925) 944-9006 or visit their website at www.onstagetheatre.org for ticket information. Ticket prices range between $12 for seniors and students and $15 for general admission.