The Internet Theater Magazine of Reviews, Features, Annotated Listings
A CurtainUp Review
By Elyse Sommer
Of course, nothing has brought the success and renown of the complex drama he fashioned from a brief newspaper account of a stranger than fiction real-life affair sustained more by intrigue and fantasy than passionate sex. For the intrigue there's the Peking opera singer who's also a Maoist government spy named Shei Pei Pu. For the fantasy that kept the affair going for twenty years, there's an ambitious but not especially sexy or charismatic French diplomat named Bernard Boursicot
Even without M. Butterfly on his resume, Hwang deserves his reputation as our foremost Asian-American playwright because he writes well about always provocative themes and characters. He's not been averse to revising a play he felt wasn't quite right the first time, like Golden Child. With Yellow Face (2007, the playwright even took on his one really major failure, Face Value which closed at the intermission during a preview at the very same theater where the current M. Butterfly revival is now playing.
While the play has had its share of productions with various Rene Gallimards and Song Lilings, directors and designers, Mr. Hwang has resisted the urge to update the script. Instead, in 2011 he opted to continue his exploration of the falseness and miscommunication in culture crossing relationships with a brand-new and decidedly of the moment work, Chinglish . The Westerner abroad this time was an American embroiled in a compromising situation in the decidedly modern China.
But bringing the play back to Broadway after all these years did persuade the playwright to take another look at his original script — especially with two marque names on board: Director Julie Taymor who's also best known for one big hit, the gorgeous and still running The Lion King and Clive Owen as Gallimard.
So here's the bottom line on Hwang and Taymor's collaboration, and the new leads.
A good deal of what was fascinating in 1988, still is.Since this is not a 2-character play, a word about the various other characters. Enid Graham does full justice to the diplomat's older wife Agnes. Murray Bartlett is aptly obnoxious as Gallimard's longtime friend Marc. Clea Alsip makes the most of two small roles, especially as the girl emerging from the projected cover of a porno magazine. Michael Countryman is terrific in his three roles, especially as Rene's boss. Celeste Den is a standout as the scary Comrade Chin.
In the final analysis, if you saw the original, I suggest that you park the urge to compare before taking your seat at the Cort. If this is your first viewing, don't bother wondering if it measures up to the one you missed . In short, if you buy a ticket, go to this M. Butterfly with an open mind. Even if it doesn't add up to quite the Wow you saw or heard about, you'll find it to still be an intriguingly unusual and enormously theatrical story.
Of course, if you're hell bent to revisit the original, a google search for images of the original M. Butterfly production will land you at a page with photos of the original setting, and actors https://www.google.com/search?q=photos+of+origial+production+of+M+Butterfly&ie=utf-8&oe=utf-8
For even more complete details about the real story you can read Joyce Wadler's New York Times Magazine article "The True Story of M. Butterfly; The Spy Who Fell in Love With a Shadow" (http://www.nytimes.com/1993/08/15/magazine/the-true-story-of-m-butterfly-the-spy-who-fell-in-love-with-a-shadow.html?pagewanted=all). A novel version of that article named Liaison, is also still available.
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M.Butterfly by David Henry Hwang
Directed by Julie Taymor Cast: Clive Owen (Rene Gallimard), Jin Ha (Song Liling), Clea Alsip (Pinup Girl, Renee), Murray Bartlett (Pinkerton, Michael), Michael Countryman (Sharpless, Toulon, Judge), Celeste Den (Comrade Chin), Enid Graham (Agnes). Jess Fry, Jason Ignacio, Kristen Faith Oei, Scott Weber (Dancers).
Original music by Elliot Goldenthal
Choreography by Ma Cong
Scenic design by Paul Steinberg
Costume design by Constance Hoffman
Lighting design by Donald Holder
Sound design by Will Pickens
Wig and hair design by Dave Bova
Makeup design by Judy Chin
Stage Manager: Robert Bennet
Running Time: 2 hours and 15 minutes with 1 intermssion
Cort Theatre, 138 W 48th St, (212) 239-6200
From 10/07/17; opening 10/26/17; closing early-12/17/17.
Reviewed by Elyse Sommer at October 30th press performance
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