A YELLOW BUTTERFLY CALLED SPHINX
nytheatre.com review by Danielle Duvall
If you’re hungry for a feast of sultry, clandestine exchanges, The New
Loft Ensemble’s A Yellow Butterfly Called Sphinx, written by
Christian Palustran, might be calling you. Josh Edelman directs this
interesting exploration of covert letters exchanged between a passionate
young math student and a female teacher, aching for camaraderie. The
letters are brought to life, in narrative form, by a group of six
dexterous young actors. All, save one, collectively play the role of the
anonymous student (or "the unknown factor"). The student, who
surreptitiously submits personal letters along with assigned homework,
initiates the exchange. The teacher, portrayed by Kristen Harlow,
discovers her student’s youthful and obsessive speculations on math,
personal philosophies and love—and then discovers the student’s extreme
(albeit anonymous) fixation on her private thoughts and responses.
Harlow is radiantly subtle as she teeters between what is morally
appropriate and her own needs. At times she is very difficult to hear,
as is the rest of the cast. However, as the play progresses, Harlow
skillfully takes us down a challenging, sometimes truly heartbreaking
August 15, 2002
The play serves as a delicious exchange between an unlikely twosome, who unveil their hidden, inner speculations on life, love, and personal boundaries. However, both the staging and choreography are overly expressionistic. The production feels alternative for the sake of being alternative, rather than truly serving the play. Also, I still can’t determine whether a) the actors have been directed to avoid their own sexuality or, b) are not yet comfortable enough with their bodies to meet the challenges of this quiet, covert and powerful material. They are capable and honest, but a bit flat. They seem so caught up in the post-modern movement work and theatricality (yes, they all wear black) that they neglect to include their own visceral, more primitive needs. This is crucial for the story of our student. For such an insatiably hungry piece of writing, it deserves a bit more natural flow. Less craft, more truth.
That said, I'm still glad I saw A Yellow Butterfly Called Sphinx. I plan to keep my eye on The New Loft Ensemble, and on director Josh Edelman. It will be interesting to see what happens next.