A Cultural Detour Along the Way

Greetings, ladies and germs. I know it’s been awhile since TheCulturedTraveler has taken pen to paper (electronically speaking), and I apologize for being so missing in action.

There are extenuating circumstances and, before I tell you about the trip on which AAC CPA and I embarked just yesterday, I’ve decided to fess up and tell you know how I’ve been spending my time of late.

One might even say that I’ve been distracted with a different kind of culture, one that doesn’t necessarily pertain to travel except, perhaps, in one’s own mind.

Several months ago, I was invited to participate in the making of a Broadway show. While initially intrigued – but not really certain – at first I demurred. Eventually, the temptation was too great not to take a leap of faith and, so, I’ve just made my debut as a Broadway producer of a new production of David Henry Hwang’s groundbreaking play, M. Butterfly, now playing at the Cort Theatre.

Artwork

(Are you as astonished as I am?)

Before things get totally out of hand and you get the wrong impression, I am not THE producer but one of a group of them. One of our lead producers brought me aboard and it’s been an amazing journey so far.

You might be interested to know that the star of our play is the celebrated actor, Clive Owen, who I’m sure you’ll recognize from his many films including Gosford Park, The Bourne Identity, Elizabeth: The Golden Age, and Closer and the television series, The Knick.

Clive Owen - 03
Our star, Clive Owen

The production has been directed by the visionary Julie Taymor, who stunned audiences with her magnificent production of The Lion King, which just began its 21st year on Broadway.

David and Julie
Playwright David Henry Hwang with director Julie Taymor

If you are unfamiliar with the play, first produced in 1988, it’s based on an actual event about a low-level French diplomat in mid 1960s Peking who becomes intrigued and enamored with a beautiful and mysterious singer at the Peking Opera. They embark on a 20-year affair that ends up in Paris, where our diplomat learns that things are not as they appear to be when they are both charged with espionage and put on trial in a French court.

What’s amazing about David’s original play is that it was inspired by a one-column article he read in the New York Times in the mid-1980s. And because there was so little available information at the time, he had to make up just about the whole thing.

New York Times: The Real Story

As it turned out, almost everything he wrote turned out to have actually happened!

The original production, starring John Lithgow, caused a sensation, won that season’s Tony Award for best play and ran for nearly two years, before setting out on a national tour and was later adapted into a film starring Jeremy Irons. The play made an overnight star of B.D. Wong, who also won a Tony in his Broadway debut.

John Lithgow and BD Wong
BD Wong and John Lithgow in the original production

For this new production, David, with Julie’s encouragement, went back and decided to fill in some of the blanks from his original play by incorporating new information from actual court records and newspaper and magazine articles that had become available only after the original play had opened. He’s also deepened and created a more complex relationship between the diplomat and the singer.

The title of the play, M. Butterfly, is David’s metaphor. Using Puccini’s popular opera, Madama Butterfly, he challenges the audience to reconsider its assumptions regarding east versus west, gender identity and fluidity, and fantasy versus reality. The play is now more startling and revelatory than it was in its original form. It is also highly entertaining theater. At its very core, it’s a play about love, espionage and betrayal.

Jin and Ha - Flat
Jin Ha and Clive Owen

Our production of M. Butterfly went into rehearsal at the end of August, began previews on October 7th and opened on October 26th. I’ve seen the show about 9 times and I can tell you that audiences are riveted from the very opening moment until the play’s shattering conclusion two hours later.

Opening Night
David, Jin, Julie and Clive on Opening Night

Opening Night Playbill
Opening Night Playbill

Every element of the play has been carefully considered and brilliantly executed. Julie Taymor has assembled an extraordinary company of 11 truly gifted actors (Clive is backed up by Jin Ha (Broadway debut as Song Lilong), Murray Bartlett, Michael Countryman, Enid Graham, Clea Alsip, Celeste Den, Jess Fry, Jason Garcia Ignacio, Kristin Faith Dei and Scott Weber), creative designers – it’s a big play, with something like 60 scenes – and the work of Paul Steinberg (sets), Constance Hoffman (costumes) and Donald Holder (lighting) is especially noteworthy, as are the wonderful contributions by composer Elliot Goldenthal and choreographer Ma Cong. As far as I’m concerned – tho’ I may be somewhat biased – M. Butterfly is a show that cannot be missed by anyone who loves provocative and challenging theatre. But, most of all, it will be an experience that you will not easily forget; it’s a play that will stay with you long after you’ve left the theatre.

Clive Owen
Clive Owen as Rene Gallamard

Jin Ha as Song Lilong
Jin Ha’s Broadway debut as Song Lilong

In fact, I’ve been told so many times that, after leaving the theatre, our audiences go home and immediately onto Google to get more information about the play and the true story.

Butterfly Lovers
Butterfly Lovers

And so, should you find yourself coming to New York this fall or winter, I hope you’ll pay a little visit to our little show. I promise you an evening you will not soon forget.

CULTURAL TIP: M. Butterfly on Broadway

PS. In my next post, to be published very soon, I’ll get back to our latest travel adventure, currently underway. Stay tuned!

 

 

 

 

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