M. Butterfly

‘M. BUTTERFLY’: Jin Ha. Photo: Matthew Murphy

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M. BUTTERFLY
By David Henry Hwang
Directed by Julie Taymor
Cort Theatre
138 West 48th Street
(212-239-6200), https://mbutterflybroadway.com/

 

 

By David NouNou

Captivating, alluring, seductive and bewitching could have been adjectives used for the original 1988 version of M. Butterfly. Time hasn’t been good to Butterfly, between the tinkering and adding of layers to the already intriguing subject matter by playwright David Henry Hwang, and the dizzying, busy direction by Julie Taymor. They have taken this Butterfly so close to the sun that they have managed to singe its gossamer wings.

Butterfly deals with illusion and the longing for that ideal perception of love in the real world. It also deals with the perception the West has of the East; the West being the aggressor and the East being submissive and pliant. It was beautifully balanced in its original casting of John Lithgow as the guileless, doltish Rene Gallimard, a French diplomat stationed in Beijing, China in 1966 and his 20-year relationship with a Chinese geisha/Chinese spy, Song Liling, portrayed exquisitely and genuinely by B. D. Wong.

Gallimard has always been captivated by the Puccini opera Madame Butterfly, although he is married, he has always longed for his Butterfly and he meets her at an embassy gala performing an aria from Madame Butterfly. He falls head over heels in love with Song Liling, thinking he is a real woman. This time around it’s the casting that short circuits the illusion. Gallimard in this instance is portrayed by the wonderful Clive Owen. From the beginning, one look at Jin Ha as Butterfly and that illusion is totally shattered. This view of reality vs illusion is so unbalanced that one has to ask is Gallimard blind or totally deranged.

Due to the subject matter being so intriguing and thought-provoking and so unique for its time (it still is), that a French diplomat of such high rank could have a 20-year relationship with a man who in actuality is a Chinese spy posing as a woman, to extract confidential information and not having a clue to Butterfly’s identity, is overwhelming. At a juncture in their relationship, she even tells him she is pregnant with his child. You might ask yourself how is that possible? Didn’t they have sex? This is where the illusion has to be so strong and convincing that Butterfly is indeed a woman.

Clive Owen is brilliant as Gallimard; he conveys the longing for that perfect woman and his delusional dashed hopes are convincing but unfortunately, he falls in the abyss of emptiness. There is no Butterfly here or the illusion of one. Jin Ha has a tone of Butterfly and a certain attitude that conveys her, but the sense of a cogent feminine mystique is totally lacking visually. Any Asian contestant on “RuPaul’s Drag Race” would be more convincing in the looks department.

Butterfly is both timely and dated. Perceptions and illusions of the West and the East still exist today. In this case, Mr. Hwang should have stuck to his original script and the subtle direction of his original director, John Dexter, where less would definitely have been more.

 

 

Edited by Scott Harrah
Published October 31 2017
Reviewed at October 30, 2017 press performance.

M. Butterfly

‘M. BUTTERFLY’: Clive Owen. Photo: Matthew Murphy

M. Butterfly

‘M. BUTTERFLY’: The company. Photo: Matthew Murphy

M. Butterfly

‘M. BUTTERFLY’: Jin Ha. Photo: Matthew Murphy

M. Butterfly

‘M. BUTTERFLY’: (left to right) Scott Weber & Jin Ha. Photo: Matthew Murphy


‘M. BUTTERFLY’: (left to right) Jin Ha, Clive Owen & company. Photo: Matthew Murphy

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