M. Butterfly

M. Butterfly

David Henry Hwang’s beautiful, heartrending play was winner of a 1988 Tony Award for Best Play and nominated for the 1989 Pulitzer Prize.

Based on a true story that stunned the world, M. Butterfly opens in the cramped prison cell where French diplomat Rene Gallimard is being held captive by the French government—and by his own illusions

M. Butterfly was inspired by an article Hwang read about the real-life 1986 scandal involving a French diplomat, Bernard Bouriscot, who for twenty years maintained a relationship with an international spy and Chinese opera singer.

Echoing Puccini's Madame Butterfly, this highly theatrical drama presents Rene who is easy prey for the exotic charm of Chinese opera singer Song Liling. Hwang interweaves details from the Bouriscot story with plotlines from Giacomo Puccini’s Madama Butterfly (1904).

Gallimard first encounters Song on stage as she performs the title role in the opera and develops a relationship with her. Subsequently, he abandons her and returns to his wife in France. Several years later Liling re-establishes a relationship with Gallimard, who is now divorced from his wife.

After living with Liling for over fifteen years, Gallimard is arrested and tried for espionage. He is accused of providing the Chinese government (via Liling) with French state secrets.

In the darkness of his cell he recalls a time when desire seemed to give him wings. A time when Song Liling, the beautiful Chinese diva, touched him with a love as vivid, as seductive—and as elusive—as a butterfly.

Written By: David Henry Hwang

Directed By: John Graham

Opening Night: April 27, 2017

April Show Times

- April 27 - 8pm
- April 28 - 8pm
- April 29 - 2pm
- April 29 - 8pm

May Show Times

- May 3 - 8pm
- May 4 - 8pm
- May 5 - 8pm
- May 6 - 2pm
- May 6 - 8pm

John Graham

Kyla Booth

James Edwards

James Withrow

David Rapkin

Channelle Le Roux

Ben Orchard

Martin Wong

What the reviewers said...

Reviews

Lesley Reed - Stage Whispers
Due to the company’s name and its church hall venue, some people may wrongly believe that St Jude’s Players is aligned to the church. They may also therefore think it unlikely the company would risk producing plays with content that may shock, such as nudity or sexually explicit dialogue. The company’s current production of David Henry Hwang’s Tony Award-winning M. Butterfly dispels all such misapprehension; St. Jude’s has demonstrated that, like all fine and independent theatre companies, they will never shy away from a good script.
Difficult though the epic story of M. Butterfly must have been to design and perform on the small stage in St Jude’s Hall, the play’s Director John Graham, the set designer Don Oakley and the cast have created an excellent production overall.
M. Butterfly is loosely based on true events, that of an affair between a French diplomat in Beijing and a Chinese opera singer. The singer was later revealed to be a spy and this eventually led to the diplomat being imprisoned in Paris. Covering a period of forty years and set in France and China, the story has parallels with Puccini’s iconic opera Madame Butterfly.
James Whitrow produces a stellar performance as Rene Gallimard, who tells his story from his prison cell in a series of sequential vignettes. Often speaking directly to the audience, Whitrow has the lion’s share of the dialogue, while creating a completely believable and nuanced character.
James Edwards is riveting in a towering performance as Song Liling; one simply cannot take one’s eyes from him whenever he is on stage. The five-minute break between act two and three is an example of this. The house lights come up slightly, but the audience is not to leave the hall. Song Liling’s presence on stage transfixes those watching, as in a slow and controlled transformation, the true ‘Butterfly’ emerges. The developing dynamics in the personal relationship between Rene Gallimard and Song Liling are sensitively and realistically created by Whitrow and Edwards.
Particularly as Rene’s sexist friend Marc, but in each of his three various roles, Benjamin Orchard demonstrates versatility and produces a very good performance.
Dealing with only brief moments on stage to develop her character, Kyla Booth still shows the psychological isolation that Rene’s wife Helga endures.
As with the character of Helga, all other featured characters are fairly superficially explored in the script, but Chanelle Le Roux, David Rapkin and Kristin Telfer do good work with what the script does provide. Martin Wong and Fiona Chen do well with various characterisations in an essentially wordless ensemble of two.
It’s good to see local Asian actors such as Telfer, Wong and Chan giving authenticity to the Chinese roles.
Uneven accents for some actors let the production down.
St Jude’s Players is always innovative in the use of its small stage and this production is no exception. Don Oakley’s design successfully juxtaposes the atmosphere of the Beijing settings with those in France, including Rene Gallimard’s prison cell.
Costumes, particularly those of Song Liling, are excellent.
Director John Graham has designed the scene containing male nudity sensitively and effectively.
Although M. Butterfly is a very long play, the audience on opening night remained completely absorbed in the story and performance.
Highly recommended for all theatre lovers who enjoy confronting yet deeply affecting drama.
Lesley Reed
Stage Whispers
Peter Burdon - Advertiser
RACY fare for the venerable St Jude’s Players in the form of David Henry Hwang’s Tony Award-winning M. Butterfly, inspired by a true story that has such an obvious parallel with Puccini’s famous opera that you wonder why it hadn’t been written anyway.
The true story concerns a French diplomat who had a long affair with a singer in the Beijing opera, apparently unaware that the woman was not only a man but also a Chinese government spy!
But rather than focus on the incredulity of the situation, Hwang instead focused on the more resonant theme of tension, whether between men and women, or between East and West. The parallels to 21st century conflicts are unavoidable.
John Graham directs M. Butterfly with a light hand, and in the lead as the diplomat Rene Gallimard, James Whitrow owns the stage.
Ze outrageous French accent occasionally intrudes, but his depiction of an innocent lost in wonder is engaging.
His duplicitous paramour, Song Liling, is likewise impressively played by James Edwards, in a role that could descend to drag or parody but is kept firmly in check.
The touch should, however, have been somewhat firmer with some of the minor roles, especially in the all-Western ensemble sections which lacked the necessary vim and vigour.
M. Butterfly
Peter Burdon
Advertiser