Dark comedy turns tables on high school bullies | Arts & Events


Some classmates are hard to forget — even decades later. The bullies. The hard girls. The ones who liked to make other people’s lives miserable.

However, writers get to grab a chance for revenge — which is what Catherine Butterfield thought she was going to get 10 years ago when she started to write “To the Bone.” Her play, which was optioned for Broadway until the pandemic squashed things, will get its world premiere Saturday, Oct. 1 to Saturday, Nov. 5 at Open Fist Theater in Atwater.

Butterfield moved from a close, very “nice” community in Minnesota to Boston when she was in middle school and as a new girl who showed up in a dirndl with yarn in her hair while all the other girls were wearing fishnet stockings, high heels and Amy Winehouse eye liner, she quickly found out what it was like to be bullied.

“I feel like I took a lot of abuse,” Butterfield said. “It may have been just in my eyes because nobody ever gave anybody abuse in Minnesota. I was shocked a lot of the time.”

Years later, she took up her pen to get some revenge on those girls who tormented her. She made them in their 40s and life wouldn’t have turned out quite the way they were expecting.

“When I first started writing it, I thought, I’m just going to make these girls pay,” Butterfield said. “I’m going to do a hatchet job on them. It’s my time for revenge. But as always happens when you write characters, you start to fall in love with them. You start to relate to them. You start to wish them the best, even if you didn’t like the original people they were based on. It turned out to be a very different play.”

It’s set in 2013, 20 years after the Red Sox lost their chance at winning the pennant because a Yankees fan ran out on the field, voiding the game-winning out. And yes, baseball is as much a part of this story as family and genetics.

Even though she became sympathetic to her characters, Butterfield said the hardship is still in the play. The girls she based it on lived in an area called the Gulch and she said they were really tough. They were infamous for such things as stealing cars, doing drugs and being promiscuous.

It was the latter that fed the playwright’s speculation on how their lives might have turned out. The play deals with the child one of them had when she was 17 who was turned over for adoption. The daughter and mother are about to have their first reunion, much to the surprise of the teenage son who didn’t know he had an older sister.

“What you might have expected to be a touching mother-daughter reconciliation doesn’t turn out that way at all,” Butterfield said. “Both of them turned out to have their own agenda, not only the daughter, but the mother.”

Butterfield said the time is right for comedies and her show will give people a laugh. However, she added, the comedy is sometimes on the dark side. There’s a lot of heartbreak, especially for Kelly, the mother and main character, who is being played by Tisha Terrasini Banker.

“Kelly is grappling with a lot of sadness and a lot of her own personal failings that are getting in the way of making things work — her own hot temper, her own inability to apologize,” Butterfield said. “She’s got some personality traits that are pretty tough.”

Her sister, Maureen, played by Amanda Weier, tries to provide some stability for Kelly and her nephew Sean, played by Jack Sharpe. She acts as a facilitator who tries to smooth things out between mother and daughter as well as protect Sean.

The daughter, Geneva, played by Alice Kors, shows up with her roommate, Darcy, played by Kacey Mayeda. Geneva wants Darcy to catch the reunion on film with the plan of making a documentary.

Butterfield, who has been living in Santa Monica for 27 years, has worked with Open Fist before. She and her husband did a series of political shorts in 2017 after the national election. Her husband, Ron West, has done a lot of work with the theatre.

When they told her that not only could she direct it, but she could bring the actors who had done readings of the show, Butterfield said it was a no-brainer.

“I started thinking, when is this little play going to get its chance?” Butterfield said, adding that she had a few plays that were due for premieres before the pandemic. “They really deserve their shot and they’re not getting it. When (Open Fist) said I can direct it, I thought, that sounds creatively really fun.”

Open Fist is also a community she trusts to do the work the way she feels is needed. It was a place where she felt a part of the community and where she knew she would have artistic control over her work.

The first half of rehearsals for this show was done over Zoom. Butterfield said that allowed them to really dig deep into the inner lives of the characters, to figure out their backgrounds and the timeline of when things happened.

“By the time we finally got on stage, I think everybody was really well grounded,” Butterfield said.

A week after the show opens, Butterfield will be going to her first high school reunion. Some of her former classmates have already seen the earlier Zoom reading of “To the Bone.”

“They recognize themselves and they still love it.”

It’s a love that should protect her from falling victim to any of her classmates who might still be bad to the bone.

Open Fist Theater Troupe’s “To the Bone” by Catherine Butterfield

WHEN: Various times Saturday, Oct. 1, to Saturday, Nov. 5

WHERE: Atwater Village Theatre, 3269 Casitas Avenue, Los Angeles

COST: Tickets start at $30, with discounts for seniors and students

INFO: openfist.org

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