|Written by||David Henry Hwang|
Rene Gallimard |
Renee and others
|Date premiered||February 10, 1988|
|Place premiered||National Theatre, Washington, D.C.|
|Subject||East/West cultural stereotypes|
|Setting||A Paris prison, 1988; recollections of Beijing and Paris|
M. Butterfly is a play by David Henry Hwang. Although it extensively references and some productions have used the music of Madama Butterfly, the play's main story has no connection with that opera. Instead, it is loosely based on the relationship between French diplomat Bernard Boursicot and Shi Pei Pu, a Peking opera singer. The play premiered on Broadway in 1988 and won the 1988 Tony Award for Best Play.
The play opened on Broadway at the Eugene O'Neill Theatre on March 20, 1988, and closed after 777 performances on January 27, 1990. It was produced by Stuart Ostrow and directed by John Dexter; it starred John Lithgow as Gallimard and BD Wong as Song Liling. David Dukes, Anthony Hopkins, Tony Randall, and John Rubinstein played Gallimard at various times during the original run.
A highly unusual abstract staging, featuring Puccini's opera Madame Butterfly intermixed with French pop music, had Kazakh countertenor Erik Kurmangaliev star as Song; he also sang two of Butterfly's arias live during the show. This production was directed by Roman Viktyuk in Moscow, Russia in 1992.
It is published by Plume and in an acting edition by Dramatists Play Service. An audio recording of the play was produced by L.A. Theatre Works, with Lithgow and Wong reprising their Broadway roles along with Margaret Cho.
A Broadway revival opened on October 26, 2017, at the Cort Theatre, with previews beginning on October 7. Starring Clive Owen, the production was directed by Julie Taymor. David Henry Hwang made changes to the original text for the revival, mostly centering around the issue of intersectional identities, but also for clarifications.
The first act introduces the main character, Rene Gallimard, a civil servant attached to the French embassy in China. He falls in love with a beautiful Chinese opera singer, Song Liling. Gallimard is unaware that all female roles in traditional Beijing opera were actually played by males, as females were banned from the stage. The first act ends with Gallimard returning to France in shame and living alone after his wife, Helga, finds out about his affair with Song and leaves him.
Act two begins with Song coming to France as a spy and resuming the affair with Gallimard. They stay together for 20 years until the truth is revealed, and Gallimard is convicted of treason and imprisoned. Unable to face the fact that his "perfect woman" is a man, he retreats deep within himself and his memories. The action of the play is depicted as his disordered, distorted recollection of the events surrounding their affair.
The third act portrays Gallimard performing seppuku while Song watches and smokes a cigarette.
Awards and nominations
Original Broadway production
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- Lefkowitz, Andy (2017-06-19). "Clive Owen-Led Revival of David Henry Hwang's M. Butterfly Finds Its Broadway Home". Broadway.com. Retrieved 2017-06-19.
- Collins-Hughes, Laura (2017-10-17). "New Flight for a New 'Butterfly'". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved 2017-12-05.
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- "'M. Butterfly' Production Broadway" playbillvault.com, accessed October 11, 2015