M Butterfly (Stage Play Review)

By Chie Credo - Sunday, January 26, 2020

MButterfly was written by David Henry Hwang and premiered on Broadway in 1988. On the same year, the play won the Tony Award for Best Play. It tells the story of a married French diplomat, Rene Gallimard, who fell in love with Chinese opera star Song Liling, a woman he considers to be perfect. The play is inspired by Giaccomo Puccini's opera, Madame Butterfly, and is loosely based on events surrounding a 1986 espionage trial. It is revealed that Song is a homosexual male playing the part of a woman. and a spy for the Communist Party of China.

The cast is composed of theater greats. RS Francisco is a male actor who played the role of Song Liling, an Oriental girl who will seduce Rene, brought to life by French actor Olivier Borten. Janine Desiderio plays a brilliant Helga, the wife of Rene, from the thick French accent to the body language that exudes a longing for his husband. Veteran Scottish actor Norm Mcleod also joins the cast as Manuel Touloun, the French ambassador to China as well as trilingual American actor Lee O'Brian as Marc, Rene's sexually unapologetic best friend. Filipina-Chinese actress Rebecca Chuaunsu played the role of Suzuki and Mayen Estanero was a vicious Comrade Chen, with her cartoonish Chinese accent. Completing the cast is two-time ALIW Awards finalist Maya Encila as Renee, a young, sexually liberated Danish woman.

The play starts off quite slowly, with Rene first establishing that he was a man of great importance to France and that he was once loved by the “perfect woman” – his butterfly. His monologue is accompanied by reenactments of his most important memories. This includes his first time encountering an explicit magazine, his political marriage to Helga, and his sexually charged conversations with Marc. Gallimard's lengthy lines were delivered with a wry dorky sense of dry humor which made him oddly endearing, and his fate sadder. The story picks up its pace when Song Liling is first introduced to Rene through the former’s performance of “Madame Butterfly”. Francisco as Song Liling, on the other hand, gives the audience a wonderful show of submission–graceful movements, honeyed voices, and beautiful weeping. However, the real delight of it is the tinge of mastered manipulation that silently seeps through Song’s actions all throughout the play.

The chill-inducing music and sound effects along with the lighting design that borrowed inspiration from Japanese rising sun propelled the play one suspenseful scene after another. The transformation of Song Liling from Rene’s dainty butterfly to the man he reveals himself to be is made more evident with the costumes. The set design for it truly did set the mood for the play, especially at the play’s ending. The last part was the most heartbreaking and most intense. RS Francisco and Olivier Borten will once again make the hairs behind our neck stand with trepidation as they barrel into the play’s finishing moments. This play will leave you standing and clapping your hands in awe.

The play gracefully dons it layers–the discontentment of Gallimard, the careful deceit of Song Liling, the start of the communist revolution, the nation’s hatred of homosexuality, and the perspective of the feminine oriental. Indeed, truly a masterpiece on stage.

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