It takes diligence and dedication mixed with support from a loyal audience to maintain a community theater, and Boise is fortunate to have around a dozen different live theater groups just waiting to entertain you. Back in 1948, the curtain went up on Boise Little Theater's first production. Since then, BLT has put on around 436 different plays and musicals, overcome everything from debt issues, multiple moves and leaky roofs, to a 1956 fire, in which two stage crew members lost their lives. BLT finally found its permanent home in 1957 on Fort Street, where it has been ever since. But dedication alone doesn't begin to scratch the surface in recognizing what the casts and crews of this community theater can really do. They put on seven productions a year and show up faithfully to rehearsals and performances without ever collecting a paycheck.
Currently showing at BLT is Leonard Gershe's play, Butterflies are Free. The play opened in 1969 at the Booth Theatre in New York and ran for 1,128 performances. It won two Tony awards, one for actress Blythe Danner and one for director Milton Katselas. In 1972, the play was adapted for the screen. The film version featured Goldie Hawn and Eddie Albert Jr., garnering an Oscar for co-star Eileen Heckart and a Golden Globe for Albert.
Set in the late '60s, Butterflies is a witty, fast, emotional coming-of-age love story set in New York City. Blind bachelor Don Baker, played by BLT newcomer Brandon Bilbao, has recently moved out of his overprotective mother's house in Scarsdale into a tiny, rundown studio apartment in Manhattan. Bilbao is convincing as the eager-to-spread-his-wings Baker and very deservedly earns enthusiastic laughs from the audience. Despite his still-wet-behind-the-ears, amiable appearance, Bilbao pulls a few dramatic surprises from his sleeve as the plot develops, and complications ensue. The new kid on BLT's block can do more than just earn laughs—he can really act.
Melina Marx plays Jill Tanner, the delightfully ditsy and very dishy neighbor who moves in next door. Marx and Bilbao's characters make a connection, and the chemistry between them is endearing, believable and fun to watch. Marx earns many enthusiastic laughs as well but also brings a nice touch of depth to her light-hearted character.
In a brilliant casting move, Jo-Ann Jones is cool and convincing as matriarch/control freak Mrs. Baker, very nearly stealing the show. As a fast-talking, guilt-card-playing conservative mother who strongly disapproves of her son's decision to live alone, Jones delivers her lines with smarts and compassion and is a joy to watch.
As Ralph Austin, actor Steve Martin isn't afraid to be disliked. Ralph is a smooth-talking play director who is devoid of political correctness, manners and good taste. Martin is funny and has good energy and timing onstage. In addition, he pulls off his showy '60s jacket well.
Boise Weekly caught up with director Larry Dennis and the cast of Butterflies to find out more about the glue that bonds them to community theater, the stage and to each other.
Boise Weekly: What led you to choose this particular play?
Larry Dennis: I like doing character shows—shows that are about people—and this one has a real good love story interest in it between the boy and the girl. I like love stories. I'm a romantic at heart.
Was the casting procedure pretty easy? Did you see the actors in auditions and say, this is my Don Baker?
Yeah. Well, no (laughs). On some of them yes, some no. I always know a year and a half in advance what I'll be directing so I'm always watching actors in other shows, checking when and who will be available at what time. At the time [of auditions], I had a pretty good idea I was going to use Melina in it. But the guy who played Don just showed up off the street completely out of the blue.
This is your 34th show in theater, and your 11th season with BLT. What motivates your dedication to community theater?
On a personal level, I have this need, this compassion thing to be a storyteller, and I like to use theater as the medium to tell stories because it's the most multi-dimensional way to tell a story, because you have live human beings in a linear setting to tell a story. For doing community theater specifically, a lot of it is about providing the opportunity for them [the actors] to discover themselves, what they're made of, what they can do.
Do you think BLT needs more support from the community?
They could probably use some more. But BLT has been around for so long, they're so ingrained, that the niche they work in is pretty solidified. In regards to theater in general in Boise, well, it could use a lot more support from folks, but in turn, the theater community has to create the desire. I guess I'm saying that people will support what they're interested in. It's for the theater community to create that interest.
Boise Weekly asked Butterflies cast members what they are each taking away from this experience.
Brandon Bilbao: Probably the biggest thing is the experience of working with Larry. I've told friends I've learned more from Larry in a week than I learned all through [doing drama in] high school. That has really helped me get into community theater.
Melina Marx: I've never gotten to work onstage before. This cast is such an amazing team to work with, they're all so amazing and so fun. Everybody is doing what they love, and they're making the show just as great as it can be.
Jo-Ann Jones: This is a different character than some of the ones I've played. Lately, I've been playing women in their 70s so it's kind of nice to play a woman my own age. I've known Larry for a while now and this is the first time I've been able to work with him, so that's been nice. It's just nice getting to know new, talented people.
Steve Martin: I hadn't worked with Larry before I did a show with him at Stagecoach, and I took this part because I wanted to work with him again. Larry makes it fun, challenging and creative. When you work with only four people, you all tend to sort of bond. I hadn't done a show this small in a really long time, and you sort of forget how intimate it is.
Butterflies are Free shows Wednesday, April 25 at 7:30 p.m., and Thursday-Saturday, April 26-28 at 8 p.m., at Boise Little Theater, 100 E. Fort St., Boise. Tickets are available at the door for $11, $9 on Wednesdsays and $9 for seniors and students. For more ticket information, contact the box office at 208-342-5104.