M. Butterfly

David Henry Hwang’s 1988 drama receives a fine staging by director Derek Charles Livingston. Hwang artfully blends the story of Puccini’s Madama Butterfly with the incredible case of Bernard Boursicot, a French diplomat working in China, who was convicted of treason in the 1980s. The play spans some 20 years and opens with René Gallimard (Sam R. Ross, in a splendid turn) pacing about in a jail cell in France, where he recounts the sad, often humorous tale of his decades-long love affair with the beautiful opera diva Song Liling (the masterful J. Manabat), whom he met one night at a show. His eerie attraction to the singer gradually evolves into an obsession bordering on idol worship of this “perfect woman,” even compelling him to divorce his wife, Helga (J.C. Henning). Among a series of surprises slowly unveiled is that the lovely Song is actually a Chinese “Mata Hari,” who wheedles classified information from the Frenchman. The play’s engagement and humor derive from the brilliant subtlety of Hwang’s interweaving themes of sex, gender, racism, reality and illusion. Livingston manages his cast superbly, and August Viverito’s minimalist set design serves the effort well, along with his slyly understated costumes.
Fridays, Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 3 p.m. Starts: Oct. 3. Continues through Nov. 8, 2008

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