Butter Melts Away My Letters
nytheatre.com review by David Pumo
February 11, 2005
The first thing that strikes the audience about La MaMa’s production of Butter Melts Away My Letters, a dance-theatre work conceived and directed by Gian Marco Lo Forte, is the set. A large, two-story frame with curtains in front, it seems almost oppressive on the small, black stage. The story begins mostly in flashback. The adult actors are children, and we learn a little about each character’s past: a young girl is touched inappropriately by an adult; a young boy comes to life when he puts on a girl’s dress for the first time. Soon the curtains on the bottom level open, revealing three small rooms, each lit with a stark red light bulb. The three main actors/dancers are now young adult prostitutes, and the expectedly dark events unfold in this sometimes interesting, sometimes frustrating production.
The stories are told through dance, music, spoken word, and voiceover narration. Butter Melts is neither fully a play nor fully a flat-out dance piece. In achieving this hybrid of art forms, the production is mostly successful. Choreographed by Stephanie Rafferty, the performers move cleanly between natural movement and dance. When they occasionally speak, it seems fitting. Much of the story, though, is told through a poorly recorded voiceover narration that is often difficult to understand, and some of the story is missed.
The three hustlers are played by Marissa Lichwick, Christopher Mehmed, and Christopher Wild, each stripping down and redressing to show the passage of time and the movement from one compartment of their lives to another, or the accommodation of their clients’ fantasies. The three move nicely together, evoking childish desire one moment and sinewy sexuality the next. There is a dark, fluid bond between them that is about both shared experience and shared longing. They are each dreaming of a future, but something in the past is holding them back. The frustration in their body movement is palpable. In one sweet scene, the three, in white boxers, gather in the upstairs kitchen one morning, and share their dreams, before beginning another workday.
What is missing most from the piece is detail. The form used here doesn’t seem to lend itself to intricate plot or personal histories. The stories, therefore, all seem to be about archetypes: the sexually confused John, the violent street hustler, the pained transgender, the abused young girl. There is nothing really new here about the world of prostitution, and the variety of characters who inhabit it; a world that is much broader and more diverse than the quaint and predictably tragic stories told here. Also, at about fifty-five minutes running time, it is hard to really flesh out more detail. The piece would be more satisfying as part of a longer evening of dance-theatre, all, perhaps, dealing with a similar theme.