Review: ‘M. Butterfly’ at The Cort Theatre

The characters Song Lilig and her consort René Gallinard are back on Broadway. Their play is M.Butterfly and its tale of a romance between a French diplomat (Gallinard, played by Clive Owen in the revival) and a young opera singer (Lilig, played by Jin Ha). This time out, director Julie Taymor has added her extraordinary talent to the mix, and the result is a stunning revival.

Owen lacks the flamboyance that original star John Lithgow brought to the role of Gallinard, but Owen’s cool and controlled personality has always had latent sexuality rippling beneath its surface, so he makes an impressive protagonist. The actor B.D.Wong achieved stardom in the original production with his brave performance as Song Liling. Jin Ha also manages to be convincing in the role as both attractive male and female. As a result, the play continues to hold us, and the sight of Clive Owens’ Gallinard in despair is even more moving than it was in the original; he seemed less likely than John Lithgow as one who could be so deceived for so long.

Clive Owen and Jin Ha. Photograph by Matthew Murphy.

Julie Taymor is known for her ability to spread spectacle around a stage with great power, and her now (and seemingly forever) running The Lion King is a constant reminder of that power.  She’s injected into this production a good deal of Chinese Opera and we get to see and hear what Gallinard heard. It makes the entire enterprise more believable. With great assist from set designer Paul Steinberg, costume designer Constance Hoffman, and Will Pickens’ sparkling sound design, we have a treat for the eye as well as the ear.

M. Butterfly’s playwright, David Hwang, knows these characters, and he’s given them ideas and language with which to express them. The form is memory in great detail. It’s a most unusual story and it’s populated with others who figure in the lives of the two principals. There are also four dancers to support Jin Ha in numbers that present him as the diva of the Chinese Opera. Clive Owen has been stolid in plays like Harold Pinter’s Old Times, in films like Sin City and on TV as Ernest Hemingway in Hemingway and Gelhorn which examined another sexually complicated relationship. But M. Butterfly gives Mr. Owen room to live and breathe in a long-lasting romance, unusual as it is. If theater is to take us into foreign territory, without commenting on it, this play succeeds. Its production is larger than life, but I found it intriguing, well produced, and impeccably acted.

Running Time: Two and a half hours, with an intermission.

M.Butterfly plays through February 25, 2018 at The Cort Theatre – 138 W. 48th Street in New York, NY. For tickets, call the box office at (212) 239-6200, or purchase them online.

 

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Richard Seff
RICHARD SEFF has been working in theatre since he made his acting debut in support of Claude Rains in the prize winning DARKNESS AT NOON, and he agreed to tour the next season in support of Edward G. Robinson, which took him across the nation and back for nine months. When it was over and he was immediately offered another national tour with THE SHRIKE with Van Heflin, he decided to explore other areas, and he spent the next 22 years representing artists in the theatre as an agent, where he worked at Liebling-Wood, MCA, eventually a partnership of his own called Hesseltine-Bookman and Seff, where he discovered and developed young talents like Chita Rivera, John Kander, Fred Ebb, Ron Field, Linda Lavin, Nancy Dussault and many others. He ultimately sold his interest to ICM. When he completed his contractual obligation to that international agency, he returned to his first love, acting and writing for the theatre. In that phase of his long and varied life, he wrote a comedy (PARIS IS OUT!) which brightened the 1970 season on Broadway for 107 performances. He became a successful supporting player in film, tv and onstage, and ultimately wrote a book about his journey, SUPPORTING PLAYER: MY LIFE UPON THE WICKED STAGE, still popular with older theatre lovers and youngsters who may not yet know exactly where they will most sensibly and profitably fit into the world of show business. The book chronicles a life of joyous work working in a favored profession in many areas, including leading roles in the regional theatres in his work in Lanford Wilson's ANGELS FALL. His last stage role was in THE COUNTESS in which he played Mr. Ruskin for 9 months off Broadway. Five seasons ago Joel Markowitz suggested he join him at DCTheatreScene. His accurate and readable reviews of the New York Scene led, when the time was right, for his joining DCMetroTheaterArts to continue bringing news of the Big Apple's productions just to keep you posted. He is delighted to be able to join DCMTA and work with Joel and hopes that you like what he has to say.