Playwright David Henry Hwang’s script for "M. Butterfly" is loosely based on the real-world story of a French diplomat who was seduced by a transvestite to divulge State secrets.
M. Butterfly’s diplomat, Rene Gallimard (played commandingly by Sean Fortunato) was duped all the while into thinking the perfect woman he desired was not the man he actually was.
Early on, we learn of this humiliation, and through reminiscences in Gallimard’s prison cell the story unfolds of how it came to be.
We watch as Nathaniel Braga as Song Liling, the Chinese Opera star whose performance as Madame Butterfly first snagged Gallimard’s infatuation, toys with her prey.
Liling makes it clear to the unsuspecting Gallimard that she is only successful in attracting him because of Gallimard’s sick Western notions of dominating the all-giving Asian female.
In the person of Gallimard, Song Liling fells patriarchy with a bulls-eye.
Hwang’s script takes on issues of sexism, racism, war and more and not lightly.
Yet there is humor at every turn. The direction and fine acting of the entire cast makes this combination of tortuous humiliation and humor come alive. Laura Coover, in one of her many roles, delivers a show-stealing monologue on the hang-ups that men have on the size of their genitals as an explanation for everything from great novels to war.
Magnetic Mark L. Montgomery in one of his many roles is the popular boy in High School that gives outcast Gallimard friendship with no shortage of mockery as his price.
We, the audience, are in conversation with Gallimard and also witnessing the story unfold as a great Chinese Opera, with the recurring presence of dancers from the Opera reminding us of how the story is a twist on a Chinese Opera tragedy genre.
Director Charles Newell has taken a stellar script, assembled great talent, and given great thought to how to best use the Court Theatre space in the telling of the tale. We laugh, we are provoked, we are part of this operatic work unfolding. Live theater doesn’t get any better than this.
Now through June 8 at Court Theatre, 5535 South Ellis Avenue.
For tickets call 773 753 4472 or visit the Court Theatre website.
Photos: Michael Brosilow