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David Henry Hwang's "M. Butterfly" at the Cort Theatre
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David Henry Hwang's "M. Butterfly" at the Cort Theatre

- Backstage with the Playwrights


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In the Heart of Times Square
Near All Broadway Theaters
11:30 AM-11:30 PM Daily
234 West 48th Street
New York, NY 10036
212.265.0828

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Nelle Nugent, Stave Traxler
Kenneth Teaton, Benjamin Feldman
et al.
Present:

Clive Owen
in
M. Butterfly
(M. Butterfly Facebook Page)

By David Henry Hwang

At the
Cort Theatre
138 West 48th Street
NY, NY
212.239.6200

With:
Jin Ha
Murray Bartlett, Michael Countryman, Enid Graham
Clea Alsip, Celeste Den

And an Ensemble of Actors/Singers/Dancers

Directed by Julie Taymor
Choreography by Ma Cong
Original Music & Soundscapes:
Elliott Goldenthal

Scenic Design: Paul Steinberg
Costume Design: Constance Hoffman
Lighting Design: Donald Holder
Sound Design: Will Pickens
Hair & Wig Design: Dave Bova
Makeup Design: Judy Chin
Casting: Telsey + Company
Adam Caldwell, CSA, Will Cantler, CSA, Karyn Casi, CSA
Cultural Advisers: Joanna C. Lee, Ken Smith
Advertising: AKA
Production Stage Manager: Robert Bennett
Company Manager: Bruce Klinger
Press Representative: Polk & Co.
Technical Supervision: Hudson Theatrical Associates
General Manager: Richards/Climan, Assoc.


Dr. Roberta E. Zlokower
December 1, 2017


I remained mesmerized, throughout the evening, in the mysticism and magic of Julie Taymor’s revival of David Henry Hwang’s M. Butterfly at the Cort Theatre. In the original 1988, Drama Desk Award-winning production, B.D. Wong starred in the role of Song Liling, a Chinese opera celebrity, who seduces a civil servant in the French Embassy in China in the 1960’s. John Lithgow had starred in the role of that civil servant, Rene Gallimard, and the show ran for almost two years at the Eugene O’Neill Theatre.

The action unfolds in Rene’s memory, as he sits in a Parisian prison cell in 1986. Clive Owen, as this revival’s Rene, seethes with remorse, regret, and repulsion. Jin Ha, as the new Song, seethes in the memory scenes, with sexuality, satisfaction, and sadism. Rene was not aware that traditional Chinese female opera roles were danced and sung by men, costumed as women. When Rene’s wife, back in France, becomes aware of her husband’s affair with Song, whom they both assume is a woman (yes, both), she leaves their home. Song, a Chinese agent, pursues Rene in France to continue amassing state secrets. Remarkably, the affair is rekindled, thanks to Rene’s obsessions and Song’s well-funded perseverance, and it lasts for twenty years. When Song undresses for the first time in the light, Rene’s psyche and soul are shattered forever. Rene is arrested for treason and implodes in the cell. Song smokes a cigarette with a self-satisfied smile.

The opera, “Madama Butterfly”, among others, is gorgeously featured, with Murray Bartlett in the role of Pinkerton and Michael Countryman as Sharpless. A live percussionist and accordionist, Jianpeng Feng, adds greatly to the musical ambiance. Most impressive are Paul Steinberg’s panels of operatic masks and butterflies, lit with stunning illumination by Donald Holder. Dave Bova’s hair and wig design and Judy Chin’s makeup are critical to the recreated, operatic gestalt that resides in Rene’s mind. Will Pickens’ sound design, as well, brings us intimately onto the Chinese opera stages and the gripping drama of the librettos. But, it’s Constance Hoffman’s dynamically decorated, silk costumes and masks that make this show truly a Taymor sensation, within Mr. Steinberg’s brilliantly conceived set. The stage panels move manually, no Taymor-Spiderman stage accidents here. Visually, for bright yellows, golds, and reds to suddenly shift to the dark, dull prison cell and chair, one tangibly senses Rene’s mind shifting rapidly from present to past, back to present, as memories appear and fade, shadowed by the ravages of fate.

The obvious question that plagues the viewer is how Rene could have been deceived in bed for well over twenty years. In a brief monologue by Song, Rene and the audience are told, graphically in detail, of Song’s deliberate postural scheme, always in the dark, as “she” was so shy. As for this production’s expected success, with so many more renowned revivals and movie-to-Broadway adaptations opening, Mr. Hwang and Ms. Taymor may not have the expanded run awarded to the 1988 production. However, for those lucky enough to seek out M. Butterfly at The Cort, you will be transported royally into the Chinese opera and costumed gymnasts that riveted Rene in his quest for spiritual beauty.













For more information, contact Dr. Roberta E. Zlokower at zlokower@bestweb.net