Two of Kansas City’s best actors bring their skill sets to “Bernice/Butterfly,” an intriguing pair of related one-act plays offering contrasting views of a dying small Kansas town.
In each of Nagle Jackson’s plays (he calls them a “two-part invention”), what initially appears to be a sort of meta-theatrical comedy turns out to be something else entirely. Each play takes a surprising twist, which will not be revealed here.
In “Bernice at Bay,” Marilyn Lynch plays an aging waitress in the sole diner in a town that has lost a military base, a manufacturing plant, a convent and a high school, among other things. The loquacious Bernice engages the unseen customers, yells out orders through the kitchen window, refills coffee cups and occasionally lapses into intimate memories.
Lynch is a master of comic timing, and much of humor in the early going is on target. Gradually the tone shifts and the play concludes on a bleak but poignant note. Donovan Kidd plays a key supporting role late in the piece as a local cop.
Robert Gibby Brand slips inside the skin of the most preposterous academic you’re likely to encounter in “The Butterfly Effect.” Initially, it appears that Randall, wearing professorial robes, is addressing the American Philosophical Society. Randall is comically verbose as he discusses the tension between thesis and antithesis and, eventually, the Butterfly Effect — the theory that a seemingly inconsequential event, such as a butterfly flapping its wings, can lead to something of great consequence, such as a hurricane.
“But I digress” is the phrase repeated often by Randall, but his memories give us a portrait of an academic whose career was ruined after he touched — not sexually, per se — a student during an outing at a swimming hole. As in “Bernice,” Randall is revealed to be something other than what he appears to be and is, in fact, a resident of the same small Kansas town where we encountered Bernice.
Director Warren Deckert stages each piece economically but with a clear sense of style. Taken together, the plays ask viewers to connect dots that aren’t necessarily obvious. And that’s what gives the work its power.