Don (Bill Forant) is a young blind man who just moved out on his own, attempting to get away from his domineering mother (Jeanne Nelson). He meets Jill (Carissa Meisner Smit), a teen free spirit in the best and worst meanings of the word: given to easy sex and walking around in her underwear, Jill is also commitment-phobic, which is an unexpected blow to the vulnerable Don.
Forant's acting approaches greatness, sensitively shading Don with a deep yearning light years better than your standard community-theater performance. Smit radiates youthful energy and is beautiful to look at, but she's too old to play a teenager, and she doesn't have the acting chops for the intenser scenes. Nelson's performance is stagey, but her smirky, brittle Mrs. Baker rises above the battle-ax caricature it could have been. Leonard Gershe's wholly unsentimental script is well-served by Sharyn Case's direction: she never allows a smidgen of corn to interfere with the real human stories onstage.
The only flaw is the scenic design: the '60s junk—God's Eyes, love beads and headbands —just doesn't sell the time period, especially when anachronisms like Sidney Sheldon books and '90s hairstyles and clothing are in plain sight. Updating the script could have easily solved those problems: trimming the occasional "groovy" or comments about "hippies" would easily bring the play into today's world without harming its integrity. The play's emotional concerns about commitment and letting go remain relevant and probably always will, promising continued labor for playwrights and talk-radio hosts.
Butterflies Are Free at the Cabrillo Playhouse, 202 Ave. Cabrillo, San Clemente, (949) 492-0465. Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m. Through Sept. 26. $12.