Written by Leonard Gershe, who also wrote the script for the Audrey Hepburn film Funny Face, Butterflies are Free is a play that premiered in 1969 with Blythe Danner (Gwyneth’s ma) in one of the starring roles. It was adapted into a 1972 film starring Goldie Hawn and Eileen Heckart, the latter of whom won an Oscar for best supporting actress. Who knew?! My background prior to the google search that provided that info was that my parents went to college for performing arts in the 70’s and I have a backlog of old plays that are now in my condo and hence my TBR pile. [And this particular old play has an orange cover- Bingo!)
The scene opens in the lower east side Manhattan apartment of Don, an early-twenty something guitar player testing out life on his own in the big city. His next door neighbor, Jill Tanner, is a 19 year old commitment-phobe hippy with dreams of becoming an actress. We soon discover that Don has been blind from birth and has an overprotective mother who is eager for him to end his independent city living experiment and come home to the suburbs. After some initial romantic sparks between them, Jill heads to an audition and his mother attempts to make Don ‘see’ reason. Will Don stand up for his dreams? Will Jill face her commitment fears?
For such a short text, this packed a lot in. It was a snapshot of things very specific to the time and place- lower Manhattan in the 70’s, the US’ free love hippies- mixed with universal themes – overprotective parents, commitment issues. I can see why an actress might win awards playing Don’s mother- it’s a meaty role with an arc for character change that I didn’t see coming.
I don’t know if I would recommend reading this as a play, but I’m game to see a classic Goldie Hawn film- Private Benjamin and Overboard were watched multiple times in my childhood, so my nostalgic love for Hawn runs strong.