Skip to main content Skip to footer site map
M. BUTTERFLY
Click Here for More Articles on M. BUTTERFLY

Review Roundup: Critics Weigh In on the Broadway Revival of M. BUTTERFLY- All the Reviews!

Review Roundup: Critics Weigh In on the Broadway Revival of M. BUTTERFLY- All the Reviews!

David Henry Hwang's Tony Award-winning play, M BUTTERFLY, directed by Julie Taymor, opens tonight at the Cort Theatre (138 West 48th street).

Leading the company is Clive Owen with Jin Ha, Murray Bartlett,Michael Countryman, Enid Graham, Clea Alsip, Celeste Den, Jess Fry, Jason Ignacio, Kristen Faith Oei, Scott Weber, Emmanuel Brown, Thomas Michael Hammond, Jake Manabat, Erica Sweany,John Leonard Thompson, and Erica Wong.

David Henry Hwang's modern classic, M. Butterfly, charts the scandalous romance between a married French diplomat and a mysterious Chinese opera singer - a remarkable love story of international espionage and personal betrayal. Their 20-year relationship pushed and blurred the boundaries between male and female, east and west - while redefining the nature of love and the devastating cost of deceit.

Let's see what the critics had to say!


Ben Brantley, The New York Times: Though it bent (and blew) the minds of rapt audiences with its elusive opalescence nearly three decades ago, David Henry Hwang's "M. Butterfly" returns to Broadway on heavier, drabber wings. True, the revival that opened on Thursday night at the Cort Theater, directed by Julie Taymor, has basically the same anatomy as its predecessor. But it has undeniably morphed into a more prosaic creature, and the tantalizing mists that surrounded its initial run have dissolved as if under a harsh morning sun. When the enigmatic title character in this breakthrough drama about the illusions of sexual and cultural identity is brusquely commanded to "Strip!" by a stricken suitor, you're apt to think, "No need guys. That's already been taken care of."

Chris Jones, Chicago Tribune: "M. Butterfly," which officially returned to Broadway on Thursday night with a marquee director in Julie Taymor, a big star in Clive Owen and a significantly revised script from Hwang, is now an entirely different and very complicated proposition. The power balance between West and East has been transformed: Hwang himself acknowledged this in his underappreciated 2011 comedy "Chinglish," a play that displays much ambivalence about the so-called new China and is very much in dialogue with "M. Butterfly." "Chinglish" is all about another feckless Western man in a sexually compromising situation, this time in a wholly subservient role. China doesn't flutter. It roars with capital.

Matt Windman, amNY: Hwang's 1988 Tony-winning play is a critical-minded drama dissecting race relations, gender roles and international affairs - and also a gripping thriller full of sex, spying and disguises. Its seriously misguided and marred Broadway revival contains direction by Taymor, lead performances from English actor Clive Owen ("Closer") and Jin Ha (Chicago cast of "Hamilton") and extensive, unnecessary and mostly detrimental rewrites.

David Rooney, The Hollywood Reporter: Hwang and director Julie Taymor have taken a curious route to address that challenge, going back to include facts that subsequently came to light about the characters' real-life inspirations, and removing much of the illusion in a work that revolves around erotic deception. While broadening the play beyond the perspective of the fictionalized Frenchman, Rene Gallimard, to include that of his lover of 20 years, Beijing Opera performer Song Liling, the production wades into didactic territory that fights against the work's inherent theatricality.

Barbara Schuler, Newsday: Today's audiences will find the deception that is at the heart of "M. Butterfly" far less shocking than when it won the Tony for best play in 1988. Maybe not shocking at all. In reworking the piece for the revival that opened on Broadway Thursday night, playwright David Henry Hwang, along with director Julie Taymor, clearly recognized the need to come at the intriguing - and true - story from a different angle.

Joe Dziemianowicz, The Daily News: "The Lion King" has secured Julie Taymor's status as a director with style and vision. But her work here is short on passion and inspiration. Awkward sliding panels, which dominate the set design, add to the choppiness of the play. Scenes from operas add pageantry but mostly feel like padding. On the other hand, the drama also omits details. That includes what the initial attraction is for Gallimard when he thinks Song is a man. The fluidity of gender is certainly topical today, but the question of how Song carried on the gender-bending ruse for so long remains unanswered. Song's anatomically explicit courtroom testimony of the mechanics of his duplicity still leaves questions. Basically it comes down to that people see what they need to see.

Jeremy Gerard, Deadline: Physically and cerebrally Clive Owen has the chameleonic qualities that define a certain kind of star charisma: He's handsome but not pretty; suave in a way that practically advertises insecurity; glib yet always on alert for the surgical riposte. All of which make the Knick star perfect for the role of Rene Gallimard, the French diplomat who falls in love with a Chinese opera star, in David Henry Hwang's electrifying drama M. Butterfly.

Tim Teeman, The Daily Beast: Spectacle and director Julie Taymor go together; in the case of The Lion King, award-winningly, and in the case of Spider-Man: Turn Off The Dark, with its litany of injuries and controversies, notoriously. Comparative restraint thrums through her vision for David Henry Hwang's Tony Award-winning M. Butterfly, first produced as a play in 1988, made into a movie in 1993, and now back on Broadway. This re-invisioning of Madame Butterfly, with boundaries of gender and sexuality blurred, is subtly drawn, and not made for superheroes leaping from balconies.

Diane Snyder, The Telegraph: The qualities that make Clive Owen such a powerful and enigmatic film actor haven't translated to the stage of Cort Theatre. That's where he's headlining a lackluster Broadway revival of M. Butterfly, the nearly 30-year-old Tony Award-winning American play inspired by the true story of a French diplomat convicted of espionage, who claimed he wasn't aware that his Chinese mistress was actually a man and a spy.

Alexis Soloski, The Guardian: Most theater is a seduction. Bodies and lights, words and clothes, they all tempt us to embrace what's unreal. David Henry Hwang's M. Butterfly, now revived on Broadway, starring Clive Owen, is a play that uses the tools of theater to both celebrate and question how we give ourselves over to fantasy. Nearly 30 years on, it's still clever, tender and formally daring. But Julie Taymor's staging and Hwang's rewrites unbalance the delicate poise between illusion and truth.

Adam Feldman, Time Out New York: Three decades later, M. Butterfly remains provocative and timely, with a great deal to unpack-in part because Hwang, in an unusually extensive revision of the text for its current Broadway revival, has stuffed it with new information. The humiliated Rene Gallimard (Clive Owen) still begins the play in the cocoon of a French prison cell, guiding the audience through flashbacks to his time with Song Liling (Jin Ha, continuously intriguing). But the nature of their intercultural romance has shifted. When they meet in this version, Gallimard knows that Song is male; Song must invent a far-fetched family history to convince him otherwise. These changes, among others, help shift the storytelling away from symbolism and toward a more specific account of a particular relationship, albeit a bizarre one. Aside from lively dance sequences set at the Peking Opera-which was traditionally all-male, Song notes, "Because only a man knows how a woman is supposed to act"-there are few spectacular flourishes.

Charles Isherwood, Broadway News: Though it ends with a tragic death that mimics the searing ending of Puccini's "Madama Butterfly " - which is alluded to (and heard in bits) throughout - Taymor's plodding, sometimes fussy staging, coupled with Hwang's revised version of the play, ultimately leave a wearying, watery impression. Today the play seems overstuffed with now-shopworn metatheatrical gambits (direct address, audience engagement, a fake "I'm ending this show now" moment, etc.), as well as self-explanatory dialogue that bluntly lays bare its themes. Plus there's the melodramatic climax for a big finish.

Marilyn Stasio, Variety: Taymor has shielded Hwang's poetry from being overwhelmed by the sheer theatricality of the story, which was based on a real-life case. In one of the playwright's many ravishing lines, Gallimard embraces his fate because "I have known - and been loved by - the perfect woman." By fortifying the scenes that frame the love story, Taymor has also strengthened the political undercurrents of the play.

Allison Adato, Entertainment Weekly: In Broadway's new production of M. Butterfly, Clive Owen brings London stage chops and matinee idol polish to the play's conflicted protagonist and semi-reliable narrator, Rene Gallimard, a French diplomat in love with a Chinese opera singer who turns out to be a spy. It is a role that accommodates varying levels of power and pathos - John Lithgow was Broadway's first Gallimard in 1988; he was followed by Anthony Hopkins, Tony Randall and, in David Cronenberg's 1993 film, Jeremy Irons. But, as crucial as it is to have a compelling presence like Owen as the play's lead storyteller, success here hinges on pinning the right Butterfly: Song Liling is a Chinese man claiming to Gallimard - even in bed - to be a woman, one who lives publicly as a man and performs female roles (as male singers did in traditional Chinese opera).

Sara Holdren, Vulture: When David Henry Hwang's memory play M. Butterfly made its Broadway debut almost 30 years ago, it took home the Tonys for Best Play, Best Direction, and Best Performance by a Featured Actor (B. D. Wong in a career-making turn as the Chinese opera singer Song Liling). It also ran for almost two years - a remarkable feat considering its thematically ambitious, stranger-than-fiction story. The play is based both on Puccini's romantic (and deeply problematic) tragedy of an opera, Madama Butterfly, and on the real-life affair between the Beijing opera singer Shei Pei Pu and French diplomat Bernard Boursicot, who for 20 years believed his male lover to be a woman.

Mark Shenton, The Stage: In an age where gender fluidity is increasingly normalised, the revelation is hardly as shocking as it once was. Director Julie Taymor, in her first Broadway show since the debacle of Spiderman: Turn Off the Dark, piles on an equally clunky spectacle of moving screens that are manually manipulated into different shapes.

Christian Lewis, Huffington Post: At no point does Taymor's direction or the performances of Owen and Ha melodramatic. Owen may be a bit overwhelmed with the heft of his role, but he works hard to portray a man in a mental crisis. But the real triumph of the piece, as was true of the original production, is the incredibly complicated performance by Ha (the role was originated by BD Wong, who was a Tony award for his performance). The two combine to make a play that is emotionally raw: it is narrated by Gallimard, who suffers mental deterioration in his prison cell, constantly replaying the events of his relationship. He directly addresses the audience while telling his story, often interrupted by Liling, who refuses to have the story simplified or made into an oriental romance, another "Madama Butterfly."

David Cote, What Should We Do?: ...I found M. Butterfly 2.0 to be a fascinating, provocative series of boxes and surfaces, constantly shifting and reconstituting itself to beguile our senses and sympathies. That's due to the cunningly framed and slippery text - which remains fresh and punchy - but also Taymor's polymorphous handling of it...Taymor's intense, painterly staging complements the shifting perspectives and cinematic quick cuts of Hwang's script by deploying a small army of modular screens...Owen balances a practiced ease with wolfish, raffish sexuality with something more wounded and vulnerable: an overgrown boy who never lost his crippling awe of femininity. His final descent into Jean Genet levels of sexual panic and identity loss is arresting and raw. A relative newcomer, Jin Ha does a fine job aping a Western conception of Eastern womanhood, while slipping in acid notes of criticism for the imperialist insults he and his countrymen have to endure. His gender illusion is not always complete, but his characterization is finely etched and layered.

Related Articles

From This Author Review Roundups