A young man encounters "One Million Butterflies" and a whole lot more while on a cross-country journey in Stephen Belber's new drama, now in its world premiere at Primary Stages. Directed by Tyler Marchant and starring Matthew Mabe, the solo show is a poetic and probing look at childhood, friendship, romance, and self-revelation.
Will takes an extended road trip in search of his missing younger brother, but ends up discovering himself along the way. Driving from state to state, he has time to sort out his relationships with his mother, an ailing neighborhood friend, and his pregnant girlfriend. Some eccentric characters he meets are more annoying than enlightening, but everyone has an effect on him and his outlook on the future.
Belber's script is alternately crystal clear and cryptic. His juxtapositions and non sequiturs are often inspired. Occasionally, the rapid-fire language undermines the emotional impact of the piece, but, for the most part, the playwright's poetic prose keeps viewers entranced and involved. Director Marchant expertly balances the verbal and visual aspects of the piece, guiding the action to its insightful conclusion. He utilizes every corner of the stage to retrace the character's steps through the lush landscape of America as well as his memories.
As Will, Mabe creates a character who is articulate about everything except his feelings. The actor's down-to-earth demeanor lends itself well to the monologue, and his physical agility is equally impressive. While the various characters he embodies all share a similar vocal pattern, Mabe manages to keep each persona distinct.
The technical elements of the show are stunning. Scenic artist Narelle Sissons and prop designer Laurie Marvald turn the black-box space into a virtual outdoor playground littered with leaves, cleverly combined with a writing desk and reams of typewriter paper. Jane Cox's lighting is luminous, offering a constant array of effects. Mabe's casual costume is the work of Olivera Gajic.