M. Butterfly spreads its wings

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MULTI-AWARDED playwright of “M. Butterfly,” David Henry Hwang was recently in the Philippines to watch the play’s local staging.

The Manila run of the award-winning play, M. Butterfly, may have ended, but its staging in the Philippines is far from over. This is because its production will go on tour early next year.

The announcement was made at a press gathering for the show’s decorated playwright — David Henry Hwang. He was recently in the country to watch a few runs of the show, and hold a master class on playwriting.

According to acclaimed Filipino Broadway producer, Jhett Tolentino, the production is set to do a series of shows in January and February 2019. It will take place at several venues in Iloilo, Davao, Cebu, Baguio and Dumaguete.

Bringing the show to Cebu is something significant for Hwang, who used to visit the province as a child to see his grandparents living there. “The Philippines holds a special place in my heart; that’s why I always find an excuse to come back,” he shared.

Hwang also explained why he had to catch the show’s Manila staging — a rare effort for him since he doesn’t usually watch productions of his play outside New York. “I don’t want to miss RS on stage, this time. His iconic and legendary performance was heard and talked about even in the US,” he said.

RS Francisco plays the role of Chinese Opera singer Song Liling in this production. This was a role he reprised since playing the part in the 1990-1992 staging of M. Butterfly in the country.

Praises from the playwright

This year’s Manila production of M. Butterfly earned praises from Hwang himself. According to him, “the play brought together so many elements, seamlessly intertwined to create what is going on in (the protagonist’s) mind.”

Hwang was referring to one of the play’s main character — Rene Gallimard, a French diplomat who was jailed for passing along classified information about his country to the Chinese government. Such was carried out through his long-time affair with Song Liling.
As the story progressed, it was revealed that Song Liling was actually a man and a spy for the Communist government.

“The complexity, passion and emotion of the characters are beautifully shown in this production,” Hwang added.

More than just a story of love and deception, M. Butterfly subtly explores social issues on gender fluidity, ethnicity and the relations between the eastern and western worlds. These themes continue to resonate to this day. And these may very well be the reasons why the play remains relevant to a wider audience.

Thirty years have passed since M. Butterfly was first shown on Broadway. Just last year, it was revived on the same stage with actors Clive Owen and Jin Ha taking on the main roles.
Hwang shared how he made substantial changes to the script for the play’s revival “to reflect some of the ways in which we think differently about relationships, gender expectations and ethnic identity,” he explained.

Sixty-one-year-old Hwang is a renowned dramatist whose works have won Tony, Obie and Grammy Awards. He currently heads the American Theater Wing (which is one of the groups that run the Tonys) and teaches playwriting at the Columbia University School of the Arts in New York City.

Hwang lives in Brooklyn, New York with his wife, actress Kathryn Layng and their two children.

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