Domestic abuse doesn’t just affect those immediately involved; its collateral damage spreads like ripples in a pond. In Jamaican-British playwright Debbie Tucker Green’s
Dirty Butterfly, tenement neighbours Amelia and Jason, living on either side of the abused Jo, listen to and absorb her pain.
“It’s a dense, gritty, aggressive world the three are in,” says Cherissa Richards, Amelia in Bound to Create’s North American premiere of the play. “They are ghettoized, dealing with tough problems and unable to realize their dreams.
“Amelia keeps trying to avoid the violence she hears on the other side of the wall, sleeping on her sofa, turning her radio up loud or escaping in the middle of the night to the café where she works as a cleaner.”
But even at work she can’t avoid Jo, who follows her and tries to explain her situation. By the play’s end, Amelia allows herself to see what’s going on in Jo’s head and under- stand how she’s feeling. There’s a hint, then, that Amelia will take care of her, at least a little.
“This is the one of the most draining parts I’ve every played,” admits the actor, who spent two years at the Shaw Festival and last winter played opposite Seana McKenna in Shaw’s Mrs. Warren’s Profession in Winnipeg. “We’re all spent at the end of the day, living in these people’s skins, feeling the turmoil in their lives.”
Richards compares Green’s writing to Jamaican dub poetry.
In rehearsals, the company discovered that “the best way to tackle it is through the rhythm. Surprisingly, it’s like Shaw’s plays, which can be heady and intellectual on the page. But in the case of both playwrights, the material comes to life when it’s spoken aloud. The overlapping text is lyrical though at the same time dense, but the rhythms help you connect clearly with the characters’ thoughts.”
From July 6 at Theatre Passe Muraille Backspace.
Cherissa Richards helps Dirty Butterfly take wing.