Henry David Hwang’s “M. Butterfly” now being performed at Capital Repertory Theatre shatters strong ethnic and gender stereotypes. And the current production hits all the right notes. Thanks to an elegant performance by J. Manabat as the beautiful and “ideal” Oriental woman, Song Lilang, an opera diva in Bejing, China, the show is an absolute must-see.
The text is based on a true story and follows the events in the life of Rene Gallimard, ably played by Jeff Williams, from the moment he meets Song in 1960, until he is imprisoned in Paris for treason 20 years later. Against the backdrop of the opera, “Madame Butterfly,” Gallimard’s favorite, the audience is transported through the historical eras that framed those turbulent times. The first act begins in his prison cell, and each night, he tells us, he relives the past.
A civil servant attached to the French embassy in China, Gallimard has married for money, does not love his wife, and falls deeply in love with Song. When he compliments her rendition of Butterfly’s suicide, she assails him with the fact that the opera is racist and sexist, pitting the “masculine” West against the “feminine” and therefore submissive East. “What would you say,” she asks him, “if a blonde homecoming queen fell in love with a short Japanese businessman?” She completes the story of “Madame Butterfly” within that context. It is a riveting moment and sets up the themes of the play. At the time they meet, Gallimard is humorously referred to as a “foreign devil.” He is far from that, being a shy and basically timid man. Williams handles his transformation into the Pinkerton of the opera’s fantasy beautifully.
The cast is uniformly gifted. Richard Lounello, in several roles, is focused in each. Sue Jin Song is scary and threatening as Comrade Chin, a torturer in Mao’s Cultural Revolution, and Myleah Misenhimer displays a gorgeous figure and a flair for comedy in several roles. Susan Cicarelli Caputo, as Gallimard’s wife, Helga, is superbly vulnerable as she comes to understand her place in her husband’s life. As choreographer, she has chosen beautifully appropriate movements for Manabat. Brian Massman is deliciously sinister as Gallimard’s boss, Toulon, the French Ambassador, who manipulates the facts at the embassy when events in the Vietnam conflict begin to go south. He places the blame directly on Gallimard’s shoulders and not on his own.
The set by Cameron Anderson is a gorgeous dreamscape, and romantic lighting by Stephen Quandt serves the show beautifully. Costumes by Thom Heyer are authentic and luxurious.
If the first act pacing on opening night was a bit too leisurely, the lengthy second act went a bit better. Director Nick Mangano has done a particularly fine job of shepherding his actors through the many scene shifts, and Karin Anderson, production stage manager, has directed her team with precision.
WHERE: Capital Repertory Theatre
WHEN: Through Feb. 10
HOW MUCH: $44-$24
MORE INFO: 445-7469
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Categories: Life and Arts