Wednesday, October 13, 2010

This N.C. Weekend: M. Butterfly

Two shows open this weekend--M. Butterfly at HSU and Brides of Dracula at Ferndale Rep. I preview both of them for the NC Journal this week. Since M. Butterfly opens first (Thursday at 7:30), what follows here is slightly expanded from what that column says about it, but there's much more on the show at HSU Stage & Screen, which I wrote for HSU. Tomorrow I'll post an expanded version of the Brides of Dracula preview here. It opens Friday at 8.

M. Butterfly by David Henry Hwang, opening at HSU’s Van Duzer Theatre, is based loosely on a true story. In Hwang’s now-classic 1988 play, a French diplomat in China named Gallimard thinks he’s living the imperial romance of Madame Butterfly (the submissive Eastern beauty happily yields to the powerful Western man) but he’s part of quite different stories, including Cold War manipulation and intrigue. Though the powerful image of perfect love is explored along with issues of colonialism, race and gender, the first question remains: how could he not know his perfect woman was a man?

“That question carries us through the whole show: how could this be?” said Michael Thomas, otherwise known as Managing Artistic director of North Coast Rep, who is directing his first HSU play. Further complications include Gallimard’s wife, his mistress and his boss, not to mention the Vietnam war.

Gallimard’s perfect love is Song Liling, a Chinese opera performer he first sees in a production of Madame Butterfly, so the color and music of theatre are intrinsic to the story. But more questions ensue from that first one, and for Thomas this is a virtue. “If a play gives us some juicy things to think about, to ponder,” he said, “then that’s a wonderful and successful evening of theatre. I think this play does that.” That intention seems to be something else these two productions have in common.

Lincoln Mitchell plays Gallimard, and Kyle Ryan plays Song Liling. Other cast members are Chelsea Snyder, Eva Rismanforoush, Denise Truong and Matt Kirchberg. Scenic designer is Calder Johnson, costumes by Amy Echeverria, lights by Kevin Landesman and choreography by Danielle Cichon.

M. Butterfly opens on Thursday (Oct. 14) at 7:30 pm in the Van Duzer Theatre, and runs this weekend and next, Thurs. through Sat. evenings, with a Sunday matinee on Oct. 24. There is some nudity as well as adult themes, so director Thomas recommends the show for high school age and older.

One intriguing historical note about the play: M. Butterfly opened on Broadway in March 1988, just days before August Wilson’s Joe Turner’s Come and Gone opened at another Broadway theatre. Both were finalists for the 1989 Pulitzer Prize in drama, but neither won. (M. Butterfly did win the Tony for Best Play.) Instead the Pulitzer went to The Heidi Chronicles by Wendy Wasserstein. All three of these plays are now recognized as classics of the 20th century, and particular classics of the American stage. Years go by, even a decade, without a single play that has the impact of any of them. Yet there they were, one after the other in 1988.

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