A revival of David Henry Hwang’s "M. Butterfly" which first opened on Broadway in 1988 and ran for 777 performances starring John Lithgow and B.D. Wong and won the Tony for best play, opened the other night at the Cort Theater on Broadway. It’s not a must-see since it is woefully dated, but the performances are worth either seeing it for the first time or seeing it again.
The story concerns a French diplomat posted to China and his love affair with a Peking opera Singer named Song who it turns out is not what she’s supposed to be in more ways than one. It’s told in flashbacks from a prison cell and covers not only his love affair but the problems with his wife, and we find out why he is in jail and what happens when and why he is forced out of the foreign service. To go any further into the storyline could ruin your evening and while you won’t be shocked (which you would have been on the original opening night), it does gives you a pretty good idea of what east-west cultural problems were like and may still be like today. By the way, there is a scene in the 2nd act which I believe has been rewritten. Be advised it is more than graphic.
Clive Owen, who was last seen on Broadway in Pinter’s "Old Times" and who was in the movie "Closer" plus many TV appearances, plays the diplomat Rene Gallimard and while you probably won’t recognize him, he does a fine job with the overly long role which is performed mostly in dialog. Jin Ha is the Chinese courtesan and Enid Graham who I last saw in the "Curious Incident of..." plays the dutiful wife. Celeste Den is Chin Who, and I’m not giving too much away, is in charge of Song’s espionage efforts. There’s little scenery except maybe Song’s small apartment, and the ugly jail cell so don't look for anything of interesting in that category.
This revival of "M. Butterfly" is directed by Julie Taymor who of course made her fame with "Lion King" and the scenic touches include a flag-waving chorus, some incidental music from Puccini’s "Madama Butterfly," which even includes some singing, and of course some magical butterflies. All this is cotton candy, but it will keep you happy as the somewhat sordid tale slides by.
So do you see this revival of "M. Butterfly"? Yes, if you are a Clive Owen fan or want to remember a different time in the world. 1988, however, is not 2017.
Incidentally, you might like to know that the opera "Madama Butterfly" (which of course is the basis for "M. Butterfly") is opening at the Metropolitan Opera on November 2nd. Now that I would stand in line for!