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to Section One | to Arts & Entertainment
posted Friday, February 1, 2019 - Volume 47 Issue 05
ArtsWest's M. Butterfly a truly compelling and transformative experience
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ArtsWest's M. Butterfly a truly compelling and transformative experience

by Paul Torres - SGN Contributing Writer

M. BUTTERFLY
ARTSWEST
Through February 17


David Henry Hwang's brilliant M. Butterfly at ArtsWest Playhouse and Gallery has so much to it that days later, I find myself still unpacking what it all means. Is this the sign of a great theater production? I think so. I would love to delve into its themes of gender roles, cultural prejudice, and self-delusion through fantasy. These and many more sub-textual elements are at play in M. Butterfly, but I am not here to write a thesis, just a simple review.

This Tony Award winning 1988 play uses Puccini's Madame Butterfly opera as inspiration for the story. The story spans a vast amount of time - from the beginnings of China's Cultural Revolution in 1947, then to Paris in 1986 - told in flashback by Rene Gallimard, a captivating David Quicksall, about his life in Beijing as a French diplomat. He falls in love with a young opera singer, Song Liling - whom he calls Butterfly. Song is played by Tom Dang who absolutely shines bright in this role. Unbeknownst to Gallimard, Song is working as a Communist spy and is spilling his secrets to the regime as well as keeping many secrets from him.

Gallimard falls in love with his idea of a perfect beauty; submissive, feminine, and devoting. As Gallimard's marriage and job fall apart, he heads back to Paris still longing for Butterfly after many years. Eventually he is imprisoned for espionage just as Butterfly returns with some hard truths that Gallimard must confront, and he does so very darkly. M. Butterfly is a truly compelling production.

An eclectic and talented supporting cast highlight the story with its sparse Chinese themed set. These talents include Jason Marr (Marc/Pinkerton), Rachel Guyer-Mafune (Renee), Kathy Hsieh (Comrade Chin), Marianna de Fazio (Agnes), Mark Waldstein (Toulon), and dancers Margaret Hotchkiss and Ayako Shapiro.

Directed with a sure steadiness by Samip Raval, M. Butterfly is very subtle in the execution of its themes. It's not over-the-top with its message (it could certainly go there) compared to today's in-your-face hashtag culture. Raval's technique hearkens back to when this was originally produced in the mid 80's, that repressed and conservative Reagan-era when themes could artfully hide in art and then seep into our minds once we are back into our real lives. This play questions the man/woman sexual dynamic, the West/East cultural perceptions, and the moralities of love and gender. This production is a transformative experience. ArtsWest is the ideal intimate space for this to happen, especially with Hwang, Raval, Quicksall, and Dang as the centerpiece of the mesmeric M. Butterfly.

ArtWest Playhouse and Gallery is located at 4711 California Ave SW just south of SW Alaska St. For more information and tickets, visit www.artswest.org or call (206) 938-0339.

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ArtsWest's M. Butterfly a truly compelling and transformative experience
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