Monday, March 20, 2023
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M. Butterfly revisal starring Clive Owen and Julie Taymor

Oscar E. Moore “from the rear mezzanine” for Talk

In this uneven and unbalanced revisal of the 1988 multiple award winning production of M. Butterfly by David Henry Hwang you may find yourself as confused as its leading character Rene Gallimard - a courageous and charming Clive Owen giving a compelling performance as a French diplomat in 1960’s Beijing dealing with his childless marriage with Agnes (Enid Graham) his awkwardness with women in general and his repressed sexuality.

But you will leave the Cort Theatre humming tunes from Puccini’s Madama Butterfly and some soothing jazz from Chet Baker’s ironic “I Fall in Love Too Easily.”

Based on a hard to believe true story this revisal is even harder to swallow under the heavy directorial thumb of Julie Taymor who has somehow tipped the scales to favor her talents, and not trusting the words and story of its playwright and his original intentions.

M. Butterfly is not a musical - hard as Ms. Taymor tries to make it one - with her elaborate Peking Opera production numbers and a most silly Act II ballet of Communist Comrades led by a most annoying Celeste Den.

The tragic love story of Rene and his Chinese mistress Song Liling (an acceptable Jin Ha) who turns out to be a Chinese spy and a man portraying a woman fights for attention. Perhaps Ms. Taymor was inspired by Victor/Victoria. Jin Ha’s live singing is much preferable over Murray Bartlett’s lip syncing Pinkerton.

For twenty years this affair went on without Rene discovering that Song Liling was a he posing as a she. Lots of denial going on there. Rene is arrested for treason and begins to unweave this saga from his jail cell. Trying to explain to us and himself what happened. He is tormented. Attempting to make sense of all this confusing role playing. And we wonder if he is a repressed gay man.

We see his uneasiness with women from the onset. However he is married to Agnes (Enid Graham) an older woman but searches (mostly in vain) for “the perfect woman” a fantasy until he hears Song sing from Madama Butterfly at a cocktail party at the Ambassador’s residence. His perfect woman turns out to be a man.

As we all discover when in a courtroom he strips down naked and explains the details of their long affair - including graphic sexual acts. It is merely crude.

What should be an intriguing, fascinating and intimate story has been blown up to operatic proportions with floating screens, elaborate costumes and noisy percussive music.

The tragedy of these two lovers is lost in Julie Taymor’s self-propaganda and masks.

Through Feb. 25th

NOTE: Have you ever noticed and wondered about the period after M in M. Butterfly is all about? In French it is the abbreviation for Monsieur. Is this a reference to Rene’s sexuality or Song’s? Or both?

Photo: Matthew Murphy

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