Over the weekend Lauren and I visited some of our good friends in Philly. I’d never before been to Philly and was looking forward to some sight-seeing and had decided that I would even good naturedly look at the Rocky steps and admire the Liberty Bell. However, when we arrived on A&J’s doorstep the combination of their less than enthusiastic greeting of “I suppose you want to sight-see tomorrow” and the knowledge that tomorrow was going to be freaking cold helped us to decide to postpone touristy activities for a warmer month. We would still get to do what we really went to Philly to do-to see David Henry Hwang’s M. Butterfly.
Through some savvy internet stalking I discovered that an actor I particularly like, Christopher Innvar was going to be in the Philadelphia Theatre Company’s 20th anniversary production of M. Butterfly. The synopsis per their website goes thusly:
“Based on a true story, M. Butterfly is a provocative and captivating story of lust, politics, and betrayal. A French diplomat falls in love with a Chinese opera singer who is to him, the "perfect woman," yet this Chinese butterfly of his passions is ultimately revealed to be far more than she seems. Inspired by Puccini's opera Madame Butterfly, David Henry Hwang's stunningly theatrical Tony Award-winning Best Play illuminates the stereotypes that underlie and threaten relations between East and West – and men and women.”
I’m thinking that my brief glance-over was a bit too brief. All I was really interested in was seeing Chris. The night before I left I was discussing the play with some theatre friends and one of them expounded a wee bit more on the play telling me that Chris’s character, Gallimard, falls in love with a Chinese…wait for it…man. Wait…what? Slightly taken aback and yet still eager to go, Lauren, A&J, and I arrived at the Suzanne Roberts Theatre, new home to the Philadelphia Theatre Company ready to…well ready to watch however trepidatiously.
By 10.30 that evening I was ready to declare Hwang a genius. M. Butterfly if a fascinating, moving experience. The oh-so-trite ‘makes you laugh and makes you cry’ may indeed be trite but are still accurate. To begin, the set was gorgeous. The designer Michael Fagin created a tunnel of red silk fans that set off the occasional shoji screen, lanterns, and beautiful kimonos. The acting was fantastic. All the main characters were so engaging and believable. Jared Michael Delaney in the role of Mark, Gillimard’s friend was charming. Telly Leung was the real surprise to us though. Leung, currently on a break from Broadway’s Rent and with a history of musical theatre including Wicked, Sweeney Todd, The King and I, and more, portrayed Song Liling, aka Butterfly, in such a fashion that I never questioned him as a woman. In addition to his acting, sang snippets from Puccini’s Madam Butterfly aria “Con onor muore” in a stunning falsetto that I haven’t heard…well…ever. I’m a dreadful vocal snob not afraid to rudely pull faces when I don’t think someone’s voice is up to snuff…but Lueng’s voice caused me to sit up and admire.
And the reason I went, Christopher Innvar…brilliant. My experiences with Chris have been limited to “fluff” theatre such as his performances in The Beaux Strategem and Taming of the Shrew at the Shakespeare Theatre Company here in DC to his melting vocals in 101 in the Shade. M. Butterfly showed his ability to delve more deeply in the human psyche and be serious. While we love him for his talent at playing the charming rake, we now admire him more for his versatility. Although one must wonder how Chris’s character Gallimard doesn’t know that Song is male…cause really?
So if you’re in or not far from Philly and want a sensational night at the theatre, get your ticket to M. Butterfly now. It’s not playing long and tickets are almost gone.