'Butterfly': Intriguing theater experience

December 06, 1990|By Lou Cedrone | Lou Cedrone,Evening Sun Staff

M. BUTTERFLY,'' the play that was presented almost three years ago in Washington and went on to New York where it ran for almost two years, is now being done at the Morris A. Mechanic Theatre, where it is every bit as interesting and theatrical as it was when first done in Washington.

A unique blend of material and style, the traveling version of the production may be more explicit than the original. At the National Theatre in Washington, the big question went largely unanswered, namely, how could a man have a 20-year relationship with a Chinese actor who posed as a woman all those years?

The road version seems to answer this question more than the original did, but even now, one must approach the play granting a fair amount of license.

The romance between the French diplomat and the ''woman'' occurred in the early '60s when the diplomat, stationed in Beijing, began a liaison with a Chinese actor who was posing as an actress, a charade the actor continued because he was passing state secrets on to his superiors.

The real story may be more bizarre than the drama based on it. In real life, the diplomat and the ''actress'' had a long relationship but were physically close for only a short time. That's what they say. They also say that the diplomat chose to believe the man he loved was a woman because he wanted to. ''It is amazing what you can believe when you are happy,'' he says.

In real life, the diplomat became openly homosexual after he left prison. That, however, is not a concern of the playwright and may be a bit too much to absorb. It is best to accept the facts as they are treated in the play, and they are presented with imagination and style.

Philip Anglim is the diplomat, and when the play begins he is in TC French prison, looking back on the ''affair'' with a mixture of humor and regret. He is more intense than John Lithgow was in the original, but he is every bit as believable.

A. Mapa is the actor-actress and is so good it is difficult to determine if this is a man playing a woman or a woman playing a man. When Mapa finally settles the matter, for the diplomat and the audience, the effect is almost startling.

Eiko Ishioka did the single set, one that includes an elevated platform, a runway, chairs and sliding filigree screens that are used to distinguish one scene from another. All this gives the show magnificent flow.

The Mechanic version is also shorter than the original Washington production. It was a trifle long there, but just the right length here.

David Henry Hwang, who wrote the play, apparently resents the Western notion that the East is more feminine than the West. It is almost a sexual attitude, he says. It is the attitude of the strong male toward the more subservient female. In his own way, Hwang is trying to even the score, and he does make his point.

''M. Butterfly'' will remain at the Mechanic through Dec. 30. It is something of a think play, one that parallels its own theme with that of ''Madame Butterfly,'' the opera by Puccini. As an evening of theater, it is both intriguing and entertaining.

''M. Butterfly''

**** A French diplomat falls in love with a woman who is really a man and allows the charade to continue for 20 years.

CAST: Philip Anglim, A. Mapa, Kevin Cooney, Alma Cuervo, Brian Reddy

DIRECTOR: Stuart Ostrow

RUNNING TIME: Two hours and 30 minutes with one intermission.

TICKETS: 625 1400

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