Butterfly on the Antenna / Motormorphosis
nytheatre.com review by Saviana Stanescu
November 5, 2006
Ohio Theatre hosts two shows on a shared-bill as part of the Havel Festival: the world premiere of Motormorphosis, a short comic piece by the former president of the Czech Republic, and Butterfly on the Antenna, his 1968 play about the passivity of the intelligentsia in Czechoslovakia (and to a certain extent in all the Eastern European countries) under the Communist regime.
Both texts have been translated by professor Carol Rocamora and writer Tomas Rychetsky who actually are working together on a volume of Vaclav Havel's plays entitled "Havel Rediscovered" to be published later this year.
Motormorphosis, directed, designed, and performed by Tanya Khordoc and Barry Weil, is a funny puppet piece that brings to mind Ionesco's Rhinoceros. This time the absurdist play depicts a car-obsessed society in which people start turning into Mercedes, Fiats, or Porsches, according to certain archetypical rules. A sexy red Mercedes is presented as an example of the plague during a lecture introduced by an egocentric self-righteous facilitator. She contaminates the audience members while the professor explains the mechanism of "motormorphosis," and a shy working-class guy with low self-esteem ends up transformed into a motorcycle although he dreamt of being a beautiful Mustang.
The play has never been produced before as Havel chose to have the piece performed as part of a larger comedy about the mania for automobiles, called Hitchhiking, and we can understand why—it's a bit shallow and gimmicky by itself. However, the two puppeteers interpreting all the roles provide the show with style, unity, and graceful speed.
The second part of the evening, luckily, takes us into the more insightful and political work that the dissident playwright is well-known for. Butterfly on the Antenna is a smart satire on the socio-political impotence of intelligentsia during Communism. Although the intellectuals know what is happening around them and can analyze in precise terms the problem, they are unable to take action or to wake up the working-class from its slumber.
Havel encodes this message in a domestic story of a family that celebrates the husband's birthday. The plumber who has rented a room in their house fell asleep on an armchair during the host's sophisticated speech. That would be just a matter of manners hadn't he left the faucet in his room open. The water fills the sink drop after drop, while the head of the family and his wife launch themselves in useless cultural arguments full of literary references about whether they should wake up the man or not. The mother-in-law tells dark stories from time to time, spicing up an evening that stumbles on when an obvious practical problem needs to be solved immediately.
Butterfly on the Antenna is an excellent parable that seems still relevant today as an absurd kitchen&sink (sic!) intellectual comedy, especially because director Henry Akona has a fresh perspective on this formerly politically-charged text. Moreover, actors Dawn Jamieson, Philip Emeott, and the wonderful Liz Wisan bring lots of energy and personality to the characters, infusing the production with rhythm and power.
Communism died in Eastern Europe, but the Havel festivals proves that good plays set in that troubled time can be charmingly resuscitated.