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M. Butterfly

a Drama w/ Comedy & Music
CATEGORY : COMEDY DRAMA
by David Henry Hwang

COMPANY : Onstage Atlanta, Inc. [WEBSITE]
VENUE : Onstage Atlanta, Inc. (Decatur) [WEBSITE]
ID# 2183

SHOWING : March 23, 2007 - April 14, 2007

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PRODUCTION DESCRIPTION

Winner of the Tony Award, the Drama Desk Award and the Outer Critics Circle Award as Best Broadway Play. Drawn from real life events, involving the strange tale of a French diplomat who carried on a twenty year relationship with a Chinese opera star without (he contended) being aware that his "perfect woman" was really a man, the play becomes a powerful metaphor for the exploration of deeper themes; the perception of Eastern culture by the West, and the persistent romanticism which clouds and inhibits that perception. "It will move you, it will thrill you, it may even surprise you. It is a play not to be missed, and it is a play once caught that will never be forgotten." —NY Post.


CAST & CREW LIST
Assistant Director George Canady
Director Barbara Cole Uterhardt
Production Manager Charlie Adair
Sound Designer Barbara Cole Uterhardt
Stage Manager Amy McGuire
Master Carpenter Christopher M. McKenzie
Song Liling Alex Dickos
Rene Gallimard Rial Ellsworth
Helga Bobbie Elzey
Toulon/Judge David Klein
Chin/Suzuki Jennifer Lee
Marc/Sharpless John Markowski
Magazine Girl/Renee Kristin Vienneau
Click to Submit Cast & Crew Info for this production
REVIEWS

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by Essie
Tuesday, April 17, 2007
0.0
did the play end with him dying. [POST A COMMENT REGARDING THIS REVIEW]
Well..... by line!
If you are asking did he really kill himself at the end of the play or was it just his fantasy? That's up to the individual. You get to make your own choices on what you want to believe. That's why it's art. There is no "right" answer.
Gender Bender Knot
by Mama Alma
Tuesday, April 10, 2007
5.0
David Henry Hwang's "M. Butterfly," a glittering gem of a modern classic, will soon leave OnStage Atlanta. Live theater is ephemeral: there are no reruns of productions missed. Theater goers instinctively know this: there's always a run on the box office for closing weekend. April 13-14 is M. Butterfly's closing weekend.

Hwang's play is an intricate ivory latticework, complex with meaning: a treatise on east-west relations, a study in self deception, a kinky love story complete with betrayal and death. Gallimard, a French diplomat, is unfaithful to his wife and takes up with the Chinese opera star Song, spilling state secrets (among other things) over the course of their affair, because Song is also a spy. Song in turn betrays Gallimard, destroying his carefully constructed world. The play contemplates how little men and women understand each other, or themselves. ("Do you know why men play all the women's parts in Chinese opera?" asks Song. "Because only a man knows how a woman should act.") It's also a brutal condemnation of western arrogance wrapped in a raw sexual metaphor. The west, Song accuses, "emasculates" the Chinese.

"M. Butterfly" opens with the opera, "Madame Butterfly." The opera serves several purposes, introducing Song the performer, and providing the prism through which to view Gallimard's fascination with his ideal woman, the delicate beauty Butterfly. An opera is a highly structured fantasy, not reality, but Gallimard is oblivious to this (and to the racial and sexual stereotypes apparent to a modern audience) and transfers all his feelings about the character Madame Butterfly to Song. A tension is immediately apparent between Gallimard's fantasy of Butterfly/Song and the audience's perception of the real Song.

Anthony Owen's amazing set, the Japanese shoji of the opera, crowds center stage, trapping Gallimard in this fantasy. As the opera segment ends, the shoji rotate and reveal (like Oriental puzzle boxes) Song's rooms, the diplomatic quarter, and later France. Gallimard's life weaves in and out of a narrow strip of light and shadow between these worlds. Often, when Gallimard addresses the audience, the Japanese facades face outward, mute reminders of the opera by which Gallimard informs his life, as Gallimard appears, ghostlike, between them.

Hwang cleverly sets out to garner affection for Gallimard, despite his western arrogance and myopia, by contrasting him with a buddy, Mark, a creature so sublimely sexist, with his crass assessment of the female anatomy (complete with crude gestures) as to make Gallimard a saint of sensitivity in comparison. In a smart bit of casting Mark and Sharpless (Butterfly's apologist in the opera segments) are played by John Markowski, wonderfully dignified and upright as Sharpless, ambitiously disgusting as the lecherous Mark. Markowski has the charismatic energy of a young Tom Cruise (a Top Gun/Risky Business Tom Cruise, before he Jumped the Couch). I hope we see more of him.

Another element working for Gallimard, at least in OnStage’s production, is Rial Ellsworth, doing real journeyman work. Gallimard is a monster of a part, in practically every scene, and a great deal of that unaided narration, one of the hardest things to ask an actor to do. Rial plays Gallimard with breezy effusiveness, bringing to mind a big clumsy puppy, so keen to have people like him that his words tumble over themselves in his eagerness to get them out. Gallimard's awkwardness with women, his splendid obtuseness, and his lack of perspective about his own actions leave us vaguely uncomfortable, but it’s rather like seeing a train wreck coming: we can’t look away.

One of the things keeping Gallimard on track with reality is his wife, Helga, played with absolutely stunning clarity by Bobbie Elzey. Some actors have an innate comfortableness on stage, and that's exactly what's needed here. Long after the play's end, I was haunted by the image of Helga sitting on the bed, drying her hair: such a homey, comfortable scene, played by Elzey with effortless sensuality. Helga is robed, of course, but she is fresh from her bath, bare-faced, naked beneath her robe. Think Glenn Close in "Meeting Venus." Yet Gallimard is clueless. In fact, he's insulting, running on about the opera singer (his fantasy woman). Elzey's is a crucial part. Helga appears several times, amid obvious symbols of truth, life, and love. Without her, Gallimard would be simply pathetic, but in his rejection of Helga and all she represents, Gallimard engineers his own tragic fall.

David Klein, as Ambassador Toulon, with his imposing statute and honeyed voice encourages Gallimard in that fall. He seeks Gallimard's "special understanding" of the Oriental mind, and Gallimard is free with his insights, not realizing the fallacy in extrapolating political ideology from a (flawed) sexual relationship. Toulon knows the source of Gallimard's "special knowledge" but doesn't care that the insights are suspect: he's a true Teflon politician and when the advice sours, he simply passes the buck.

Song, played by Alex Dickos, is not a typical Chinese woman. When Gallimard first sees Song performing "Madame Butterfly," his effusive compliments on the performance of such a beautiful part (Rial is splendid in his overeagerness to please) strike the wrong note, as the opera star reminds him that the Japanese enslaved and tortured the Chinese. Song finds performing a European's version of a Japanese heroine distasteful, and vows never to do so again. Yet Gallimard is so involved with his own fantasies that he continues to address Song by the pet name Butterfly after explicitly being told how offensive it is. He never opens his eyes to any of Song's real attributes, and while he is blind to the reality of his Song, the audience is not. Song knows all that Gallimard knows, down to the last trooper being sent into Vietnam. It is in these scenes, where Alex smoothly changes from the sweet cooing cadences used to entice Gallimard to the brisk staccato reports to Comrade Chin that we see Song's true character. In contrast, we see Gallimard grandly philosophizing with Toulon that the Chinese will support the west because they admire strength and forcefulness.

In Kazuo Ishiguro's "Remains of the Day" the butler Stevens sits by a calm body of water and reflects on a life of idealized service, devoted to a less than sterling master. "I didn't know, you see," is his excuse. Gallimard's tragedy, in contrast, is not so much that he was deceived as that he gloried in his self-deception. His heartbreaking cry "I knew" is only exceeded by the character of the slur he hurls at Song: the worst name he can conceive is the naked truth. The resolution is not played for surprise: this is no "Sixth Sense" or "Crying Game." Rather, it is a reflection of how human beings are complicit in their own fate. When the raw reality of the world overtakes Gallimard, he retreats, irrevocably, into the finality of his dream.
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Be Careful What You Pretend
by Dedalus
Wednesday, March 28, 2007
3.0
Kurt Vonnegut writes in the introduction to his 1961 novel “Mother Night,” that it is the only one of his books with a definite theme – “Be careful what you pretend to be, because that is what you really are.” (The book is the story of a man pretending to be a Nazi sympathizer as a means to spy for America during WWII – he is so good at it, that the line between pretense and reality becomes very blurred indeed.) I’ve always been struck by the similarity between this and the underlying concept of David Henry Hwang’s “M Butterfly” (1988). Here, the protagonist is pretending he’s in a real-life “Madame Butterfly, “ when, in reality, he’s .

This has been one of my all-time favorite plays because of its emotional impact and its central character, a conflicted and flawed man who finds his romantic notions of the Orient subverted by his own prejudices and preconcepts, and also by . Decatur’s Onstage Atlanta his put together a competent production, well-directed by Barbara Cole-Uterhardt, designed to make optimum use of the small OSA Playing Area. My only complaint is that it is better in its parts than as a whole – I wanted the leave the theatre saying “Wow” instead of being quietly respectful.

To summarize, Rene Gallimard is low-level French diplomat in the China of the sixties. He has a comfortable life and a comfortable wife and a Western Idealized view of Oriental women, a view summarized by Puccini’s tragic opera “Madame Butterfly.” He has this view turned upside down when he meets and falls in love with Song Liling, a star of the Chinese Opera performing in a production of “Butterfly.” Gallimard and Song begin a 20-year affair, which ends with the revelation that Song is, in fact, a spy for the Chinese Government, and has been using the affair to obtain diplomatic secrets. The play unfolds as a series of flashbacks from Gallimard’s prison cell, as he awaits his trial for treason. Did I mention that Song is ?

One of the play’s strengths is that, throughout the years, Gallimard imagines himself living out a real-life “Butterfly,” as if Pinkerton really loved his “Butterfly.” The reversal comes when he finds out that he’s been more correct than he wished, since .

I think what makes this production plod rather than soar is Rial Ellsworth’s Gallimard. It’s not that he does anything wrong – it’s just that throughout the evening, I saw more Rial than Gallimard. This could, admittedly be my own preconceptions – Rial is a friend with whom I’ve worked onstage on more than one occasion; I’m more familiar with him and his previous performances than the average OSA patron. After last year’s “The House of Blue Leaves” at CenterStage North in which he gave one of the finest performances of the year, I was expecting my socks to be knocked off. “Blue Leaves” succeeds or fails on whether the actor can make us like what is essentially an rather unlikable character, something Rial can do better than anyone I know. Like Artie Shaughnessy, Gallimard can cold and offputting – the emotional impact of the play lies in the actor finding the hook that makes us care what happens to him, to make us think we could have been as easily deceived as he. The reason the movie of this play was so abysmally bad was because Jeremy Irons is usually alienating, who, even when he plays charming characters, can be difficult to like.

And because the major of plot twist of is so bizarre, we can be left feeling unmoved at its revelation if we don’t care about Gallimard.

But, I trust Rial – I think as the run goes on, he’ll find his hook. This was opening weekend, and with the rush of tech week chaos and the size of the role, it is perhaps understandable (if not quite excusable) that the first weekend is just a bit rough.

Another factor that may have hurt the impact was the casting of Song. Song really needs to be small and round-faced for the plot twist to work. Because this Song was tall and angular, I saw through the twist from the beginning of play. It’s not that A. Dickos gave a bad performance – in voice and carriage and reaction, every note was right. I especially like the contrasts made when Song was not with Gallimard. Since I already knew that Song was , my reaction may be prejudiced. Others will need to decide this.

Yes, “M Butterfly” is a well-designed, well-directed, competently-acted piece of community theatre. I think my affection for this script (which, by the way, does not show its age) leads me to say that sometimes, you just have to be better than “good enough.” And, if I know Rial like I think I do, I predict the next three weekends will be.

So, just to paraphrase Mr. Vonnegut, Be careful what story you use to describe your life. You may be playing the wrong role (and I hope the Spoiler Police do not edit that comment).

-- Brad Rudy (BKRudy@aol.com)


Disclaimer: I auditioned for this production and was not cast. I like to think that I’m old enough (and oft-rejected enough) to ascribe this to Barbara’s vision of the character rather than to my own shortcomings (which I daresay are legion). In any case, I’m certainly not bitter and don’t think I brought any of that baggage into my comments. But just in case I’m blind to it …

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