Based on a true story that shocked the world, the Pulitzer-nominated drama M. Butterfly takes audiences from Paris to Beijing and back again.
About the show: "A French diplomat’s 20-year affair with a Chinese opera singer leads to international intrigue in which East meets West, man meets woman, and ancient traditions collide with the modern world. When the story’s stunning secret is revealed, you won’t believe your eyes. French diplomat René Gallimard, stationed in Beijing, is faithful to his wife of eight years, but his world is forever changed when he witnesses a performance by a Chinese opera singer at a diplomatic event. From there, he finds his way into a swirling world of smoky clubs, diplomatic intrigue, and increasing obsession."
M. Butterfly, written by David Henry Hwang and directed by Catherine Doherty, runs live on stage at Northern Stage at the Briggs Opera House in White River Junction, VT, from February 15 through March 4. For tickets and information, call 802-296-7000 or visit www.northernstage.org. This play contains adult content and nudity.
This play, which was nominated for the Pulitzer Prize for Drama, won three Tony Awards including Best Play, and picked up three Drama Desk Awards during its Broadway run, features Drew Taylor as René Gallimard, the diplomat whose life is turned upside down. Taylor, who returns to Northern Stage after starring in The History Boys and the World Premiere musical Take Two, has appeared on Broadway in The Secret Garden, Annie and The Sweet Smell of Success with John Lithgow (who, coincidentally, playEd Gallimard on Broadway). He is joined by Broadway actress (and Northern Stage newcomer) Sung Yun Cho, along with a trio of actors from the recent Les Liaisons Dangereuses (Shu-nan Chu, Michael Guess and Alexis Hyatt ) and other returning favorites Robert Boardman, Kyle Knauf and Regan Thompson. Devin Ilaw from the Toronto revival of Miss Saigon portrays Chinese opera singer Song Liling.
Performances are Tuesdays through Saturdays at 7:30 p.m. and Sundays at 5:00 p.m., except for the Opening Night performance on Friday, Feb. 17 at 7:00 p.m., with a 2:00 p.m. matinee on Thursday, Feb. 23. The show is sponsored by McGray & Nichols, crafters of quality homes.
M. Butterfly is based on real-life events. In 1986, over dinner, a friend asked David Henry Hwang if he had heard the story of French diplomat Bernard Boursicot, whose involvement with Chinese opera singer Shi Pei Pu had created an international scandal. When he read a brief newspaper story about Boursicot, he realized that Boursicot’s statements about the modesty of Chinese women aligned with certain Western stereotypes about Asian gender roles. Hwang was intrigued, but he specifically avoided doing further research into Boursicot’s story because, as he said, “I was not interested in writing a docudrama. Frankly, I didn’t want the ‘truth’ to interfere with my own speculations.” He initially envisioned writing the story as a musical—in his words, “some great Madame Butterfly-like tragedy.” He asked himself, “What did Boursicot think he was getting in this Chinese actress? The answer came to me clearly: He probably thought he had found Madame Butterfly.”
The play touches not only on relationships between men and women and between Westerners and Asians, but strikes at the heart of today’s testy political, economic and cultural relationship between the U.S. and China. If the real-life Boursicot and the fictional Gallimard could go for so long without understanding the basic nature of their relationships with their corresponding opera singers, what does that tell us about our ability to understand China?
At the urging of his producer, Stuart Ostrow, he aimed directly for Broadway, rather than developing the play regionally. The production was first staged at The National Theatre in Washington, DC. The play moved to the Eugene O’Neill Theatre on March 20, 1988, with John Lithgow in the role of Gallimard. The run extended for777 performances and was nominated for the Pulitzer Prize for Drama, won three Tony Awards including Best Play, and picked up three Drama Desk Awards. Hwang later adapted the story for the screen; the 1993 film starred Jeremy Irons.