M. BUTTERFLY at Everyman Theatre - What a Bold Presentation of a Psychological Thriller Full of Surprises
I was extremely fortunate to have seen the Original Broadway Cast of M. BUTTERFLY with John Lithgow and B. D. Wong which won the Tony Award for Best Play in 1988. So I was thrilled that Vincent M. Lancisi chose to present this complex piece of theater to the Baltimore/Washington area. What a way to celebrate the play's 30th anniversary! M. BUTTERFLY will also return to Broadway in October starring Clive Owen and directed by Julie Taymor in a slightly different take of the play.
I'm sure what contributed to this decision was having the brilliant actor Bruce Randolph Nelson, an Everyman Resident Company Member ready, willing, and able to play the John Lithgow part of Rene Gallimard who is onstage almost the entire show.
The story is loosely based on the life of Gallimard and begins as a flash back. Gallimard is in a Paris jail in 1986 cell for giving away secrets to a Chinese spy while he was a diplomat there during the 1950's and 1960's when the French were in Indo-China before the USA got involved in Vietnam.
But the story is much more complex due to the fact that Gallimard had a bizarre 20-year affair with a Beijing Opera star who plays a woman in the Opera but in reality is a man. Not only does Gallimard not figure out she is a spy, he also does not learn she is a "man" until the end of the play. According to Gallimard in explaining this relationship, "It was dark, and she was very modest". You may chuckle at this arrangement but one has to remember this play was based on a "true" story.
Lancisi directs an impressive cast. Nelson is just plainly superb in his role as this complex character Gallimard. Did he realize she was a man or did he "hope" he was a man? An interesting conundrum.
Playing his wife "Helga" in a small role is the always wonderful Everyman Resident Company Member Deborah Hazlett who late in the tale realizes something's wrong with their relationship.
Another Everyman Resident Company Member, Yaegel T. Welch in various roles.
Christopher Bloch, seemingly a regular now at Everyman, gives a knockout performance as Gallimard's French supervisor M. Toulon and a Judge.
Making his Everyman debut is the astonishing actor Vichet Chum who gives a performance worthy of a "bravo" or should I say "brava". He is certainly believable as a Chinese opera diva, a spy, and as a man, Song Liling. His seduction of Gallimard is worth the price of admission.
Others doing an admirable job are Katherine Ariyan, Brett Messiora, Mika A. Nakano, and Tuyet Thi Pham.
Playwright Hwang infuses his play with segment's of Puccini's classic opera "Madama Butterfly".There a U.S. sailor marries a Japanese girl "Butterfly", gets her pregnant, leaves, and returns three years later married to an "American". Sounds similar to the musical MISS SAIGON.
As you can see, the play features the clash between Western and Eastern cultures, the serious miscalculations by the French and American regarding foreign policy in the region, and the issue of homosexuality.
I loved the use of the "Red" flag being waved by a Chinese Communist played by Messiora..
Thanks to the wonderful program, as well as a great article by the Washington Post's Nelson Pressley, it is revealed that the actual man in this tale is based on a man who lives in France and following an amazing coincidental meeting with Lancisi in a cab led to a meeting with Nelson and Bernard Boursicot, the role of Gallimard,now 73, and living in a nursing home outside of Rennes, France. This is just unbelievable but true.
Credit must be given to the superb set by Yu-Hsuan Chen, effective lighting by Jay Herzog, sumptuous costumes by Eric Abele and terrific Sound and Music by Fabian Obispo.
M. BUTTERFLY continues until October 8. For tickets, call 410-752-2208 or visit www.everymantheatre.org where you can access a helpful "Play Guide".
THIS AND THAT
On Saturday, Sept. 23 at 5 p.m. Everyman presents "The World of the Play hosted by Marc Steiner. This is free.
On Tuesday, September 26 at 7 p.m. at the old Parkway Theatre on North Avenue you can view the film "M. Butterfly with Jeremy Irons. Lancisi will introduce the screening and host an informal discussion afterwards. Tickets are $8-10 available at mdfilmfest.com.
Following the Thursday night, Sept. 28 performance at 9:30 p.m. there will be a conversation with the cast.
Next up at Everyman is one of my favorite plays INTIMATE APPAREL by Lynn Nottage and Directed by Tazewell Thompson which runs from October 18 to November 19.