The psychological underpinning of child abuse are at the core of "Butterfly Kiss," a drama by Phyllis Nagy that is opening Thursday night in Murphy Hall's Inge Theatre.
Megan Shea, a Kansas University graduate student, is directing the provocative play, which she describes as a "detailed look at the life of a woman who was subjected to sexual and mental abuse that eventually led to a murder."
"This play is for women, by a woman and about women," Shea said. "It is an exploration into the mind of a young woman who has recently murdered her mother. As the woman is questioned about her motive for this act of horror, she flashes back to a childhood filled with abuse. Her memories detail how her grandmother, mother and father all took part in subjecting her to their dysfunctional whims."
"Butterfly Kiss," published in Great Britain by Nick Hern Books in 1994, was first produced at the Almeida Theatre in London in April 1994. Shea said she was attracted to the script because of the many violent acts that have occurred in recent years in this country.
"It seems as if, suddenly, people who were once considered 'normal' by their neighbors are transformed into perpetrators, victims and abusers," she said. "The crime attracts the attention of the entire nation. We wonder why. Why did Susan Smith drown her children? Why did the tragedy at Columbine occur? Why are the killers' morals different from our own? We blame violent media, video games and lack of gun control as we search for motive in the details of the life of the murderer. We give importance to speculations of friends, neighbors and relatives. But how often do we take seriously what the murderer has to say about her actions?"
Shea said the play also intrigued her because it concentrates on exploring one character.
"Spectators get a glimpse of life through this woman's eyes," she explained. "The events that happen occur with other people, but are always taken from her point of view. This character is dark; she was driven to murder her own mother and appears as guiltless in the eyes of the audience and to the other characters onstage."
The play is set in a jail cell, although the woman's memories transform the cell into several settings including her childhood home.
"The place presented onstage appears to be not only the physical prison where she is located, but also the prison of her mind," Shea said. "As the play continues, we see a woman trapped by her past, or by her remembrance of everything that has happened earlier in life. During her recollections, her emotions demonstrate a coldness, which can only stem from a complete shutdown of human affectation."
The play is the opener for the KU Women's Play Festival, which also includes "So What's New," Nov. 8-11 and 13-16; "The Waiting Room," Feb. 14-17 and 19-22; "Desdemona, A Play About A Handkerchief," April 4-7 and 9-12; and "Lear's Daughter," May 2-5 and 7-9. All of the plays are in Inge Theatre.