Online Entertainment Magazine

June 14, 2004

Theater Review


M. Butterfly


LOS ANGELES, CA - Living in fantasy is a diversion to most, a necessity to others and to the few who live in dreams it has become the known, the unreal real. David Henry Hwang's acclaimed "M. Butterfly" creates such a break in human psyches to allow the real to become the unreal and fold back on itself again, creating the ambiguous set against the revolutionary. The complexities of the piece from the empirical and patriarchal overview of western masculinity and its mores, to the sexual underpinnings of the theory that "only a man knows how a woman is supposed to act" call for a range in acting that only a few can call on. 


Presented by the renowned East West Players as the last play of it's Politics of Passion season, This streamlined Incarnation of M. Butterfly is crisply directed by Chay Yew and has the gift of reuniting Alec Mapa with the director and watching him touch down again in the guise of Song Liling. Mapa stepped straight out of NYU and into the same role that B.D. Wong had created almost 16 years ago. He then went on to his own brand of fame including his TV and film appearances and his show 'I Remember Mapa." Mapa, an LA Drama Critics award winner, brings a light and wisdom to Song this time around, that continues to illuminate the work. He is at once, brilliant, touching and knowing -- inhabiting and becoming all at once. 

From the underlying rage during a drunken scene to an emotional precipice ending, Mapa deserves continued credit and acclaim for his work. 


The character of Song Lining is only half of a combination that can be deadly good theater when played out. The other half is the lead character of diplomat "Rene Gallimard," an unsure man in Maoist China whose life falls apart and together in a moment at a Chinese opera, played here by Arye Gross. In the reviewed production The play had begun and yet the story telling had not. There was the Prison cell and the man, and we his audience with a need to be transported and carried, waiting for him to recreate the magic and danger of his past out thin air and have us believe what was and what was not. And yet Gross seemed oddly disconnected from the words and work. "Passion I banish and in it's place practicality," seemed more instructional than subtextually desperate as it might have been. The First moment of blind attraction at the opera, the first lie to his wife, the need to be and prove and feel, all came and went, and it was only toward the end of the second act when suddenly we saw and felt true passion, anger and loss from the character, that it served to create a climax and resolution that almost left the audience itself behind. 

The cast is strong and Erik Sorensen who plays Gallimard's friend Marc is a step back in time to the place where privileged collegiate friends relied on their dominant societal role as white western men and had absolute faith that they were right. Matthew Henerson does a great job playing the consummate cagey politico judge. Shannon Holt plays Helga, Gallimard's wife as a cagey politico of her own. The perfect wife who overlooks and holds fast to the plays thematic throughline that appearances are not reality and the truth may be painful and unnecessary. She is exposed and laid open in Act II when her life is crumbling and we see the pretense stripped away and the visceral venom underneath. 



Emily Kuroda as Comrade Chin personifies the dangerous blind follower mentality, but does it with a humor and depth so we see the humanness of her character. Jennifer Rau brings an energy, sexuality and vitality to each of her characters, and has a great flair. 

The production is strong and worth seeing, but in the end it was the chemistry and the magic between the two main characters I wanted to see more of, and to experience through the narrative the true suffering and delusion of Gallimard for it to be a night to remember. - Kevin Kindlin

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East West Players Website


Previews June 3 through 6
June 9 through July 18, 2004




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