This post is about a theater outing to see the highly anticipated Julie Taymor production of M. BUTTERFLY starring Clive Owen on Wednesday, November 1st at 2pm. Tickets are $125. Capacity limited to 15. MWC’ers can purchase the tickets by going to the SIGN-UP! tab on the menu ribbon on the Members Site.
No one must read the newspaper like David Henry Hwang. At some point in 1986 he read a newspaper story about something which was the subject of much gossip in international diplomatic circles. A French foreign service officer stationed in China had fallen in love with a Bejing Opera diva with whom he had a 20-year affair. However, after it was revealed that the diva was a male spy, he was convicted of treason and imprisoned. One would think that these mere facts alone would have been enough for a dramatic work.
But not so for David Henry Hwang. The more sensational aspects of this story (“How could he have not known?”; “How was this deception maintained for 20 years?”) were only the jumping off points for his work, M. BUTTERFLY. Using Puccini’s opera Madama Butterfly as a construct – after all, what opera better portrays betrayal? – Hwang used the basics of the story to create a stark contemplation on sexuality, cultural conflict, fluid gender roles and the searing pain of personal deceit. Throw in some frisson from international espionage against the over-the-top drama of opera and you have an amazing tour de force work.
Hwang won the 1988 Pulitzer Prize for Drama for M. BUTTERFLY for the original production which starred John Lithgow as the diplomat Gallimard and B.D. Wong as the gender shifting opera star, Song Liing. M. BUTTERFLY has since been produced many, many times on stage and, also quite memorably, in a 1993 in a movie starring Jeremy Irons as Gallimard. Hmmmm… so, does it really need a Broadway revival? Well, in the intervening time between its original production and now, stage and screen director and designer Julie Taymor (Lion King, SpiderMan: Turn Off the Dark…) has appeared on the scene. Taymor is known for her strong visuals and particularly innovative creative sense. Lion King would have been successful financially even if it starred someone in a cute lion suit, but Taymor (and Disney) went the distance and made it a creative sensation with her use of puppetry and masks. Guess it’s no surprise that she started her career as a costume designer. In this production, Rene Gallimard will be played by British actor, Clive Owen – also known for his dramatic versatility and risk-taking.
So, even if you’ve seen M. BUTTERFLY before it might be time to take another look and if you haven’t seen it – go! David Henry Hwang has purportedly added new material to his work based on new information. Julie Taymor and Clive Owen are an inspiring theatrical team. And in our current world of identity politics, self-defined gender, and East-West cultural conflation it seems as though M. BUTTERFLY is likely to feel very topical. This is a work with an odd staying power – it lingers like incense and aspects of it rise in your consciousness, and stay, for a very, very long time.