M. Butterfly at Court Theatre

 

Court Theatre
M.Butterfly

By David Henry Hwang

Directed by Charles Newell

At Court Theatre, Chicago

Ambitious production of M.Butterfly has mixed tones

David Henry Hwang’s M. Butterfly, is gem of a play. It is a layered love story that covers themes like East verses West culture, men verses women and fantasy love verses reality. Loosely following Madama Butterfly and an actual French case of a diplomat being convicted of falling in love with a Chinese opera star who was a spy, M. Butterfly is a stunning piece of dramatic theatre that has elements of spectacle and sprinklings  comedy.

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Rene Gallimard (a heart wrenching Sean Fortunato) tells his story of how he ended up turning over French state secrets to Song Lilang (Nathaniel Braga). Over their 20 year affair, in both China and France, Rene convinced himself of his delusions that Song was his seductive and elusive ‘butterfly.’ Hwang weaves the motif of Puccini’s opera with the factual based French scandal. We see how a nerdy minor diplomat falls for the illusion of a ‘perfect’ woman when he meets Song—dressed in traditional dress. We see the allure of the Eastern myth as it crashes with Rene’s Western attitudes.

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M. Butterfly is a strikingly powerful look at how one’s passion and desperate search for love can lead to flight of fantasy allowing that person to only see and believe what he wants instead of reality. Delusion makes it easy for deception to occur especially in the hands of an actor who is adapt at playing a woman. The role of men and women and the difference of Eastern and Western perceptions fuels Rene’s delusion.

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Sean Fortunato gave an intense and winning performance as Gallimard. Nathaniel Braga was convincing as Song. He deftly moved like a women with enough effeminate movement to be believable in a most difficult and demanding role. To be successful, Braga only has to get us to question: ‘Is Song really a woman?’ Braga was terrific and bravely shows us his true identity late in act two. Just to complicate matters, we see that Song does actually care for Rene or does he?

I had some trouble with the tone changes in the piece that found wacky humor followed by poignant moments especially in the comic scenes with Mark L Montgomery as Rene’s old friend from his youth MarcMan. But the entire production survives those moments and presents as a worthy work  featuring vivid costumes, dance in a Chinese flavor. M. Butterfly is about sex, espionage, imperialism and personal fantasies. Sean Fortunato is fabulous here.

Recommended

Tom Williams

Talk Theatre in Chicago podcast

Jeff Recommended

Date Reviewed: May 17, 2014

For more info checkout the M,Butterfly page at theatreinchicago.com

At Court Theatre,  5535 S. Ellis, Chicago, IL call 773-753-4472, www.courttheatre.org, tickets $45 – $65, Wed. & Thur. at 7:30 pm, Fridays at 8 pm,  Sat.at 3 7 8 pm, Sundays at 2:30 & 7;30 pm, running time is 2 hours, 30 minutes with intermission, through June 8, 2014