M. Butterfly: Wikis


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From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

M. Butterfly
Written by David Henry Hwang
Characters Rene Gallimard
Song Liling
M. Toulon
Comrade Chin
Renee and others
Date premiered March 20, 1988
Place premiered Eugene O'Neill Theatre
New York City, New York
Original language English
Subject East/West cultural stereotypes
Genre Drama
Setting A Paris prison, 1988; recollections of Beijing and Paris
IBDB profile

M. Butterfly is a 1988 play by David Henry Hwang loosely based on the relationship between French diplomat Bernard Boursicot and Shi Pei Pu, a male Peking opera singer.

The play premiered on Broadway at the Eugene O'Neill Theatre on March 20, 1988, closing after 777 performances on January 27, 1990. It was directed by John Dexter with stars John Lithgow as Gallimard and B.D. Wong as Song Liling. David Dukes, Anthony Hopkins, Tony Randall, and John Rubenstein played Gallimard at various times during the original run. A highly unusual staging featuring Puccini's music and the Kazakh countertenor Erik Kurmangaliev in the title role was undertaken by Roman Viktyuk in Russia in 1990.

It is currently published by Plume and in an acting edition by Dramatists Play Service. An audio recording of the play was produced by L. A. Theatre Works, with Lithgow and Wong reprising their Broadway roles and also Margaret Cho.


Plot synopsis

The play was inspired by Giacomo Puccini's opera Madama Butterfly. The first act introduces the main character, Rene Gallimard, who is a civil servant attached to the French embassy in China. He falls in love with a beautiful Chinese opera diva, Song Liling, who is actually a man masquerading as a woman. In traditional Beijing opera, females were banned from the stage; all female roles (dan) were played by male performers.

Unbeknownst to Gallimard, Song is also a spy for the Chinese government and uses the relationship with Gallimard to extract vital information. Gallimard is eventually sent back to France in disgrace for his role in completely misinterpreting (thanks to Song) the native Vietnamese and Chinese in the Vietnam War. He also divorces his wife Helga because he loves Song so much. Since Gallimard has been sent back to France, Song is no longer useful to the Chinese government and is put in a reeducation camp for being an artist.

Act two begins with Song coming to France and resuming his affair with Gallimard. They stay together for 20 years until the truth is revealed, and Gallimard is convicted of treason and imprisoned. Unable to face the fact that his "perfect woman" is actually a man, he retreats deep within himself and his memories. The action of the play is depicted as his disordered, distorted recollection of the events surrounding their affair.

The third act portrays Gallimard committing seppuku (a type of Japanese suicide through self-disembowelment) while Song watches and smokes a cigarette.

Film adaptation

Hwang adapted the play for a 1993 film directed by David Cronenberg with Jeremy Irons and John Lone in the leading roles.

Awards and nominations

  • 1989 Drama Desk Award for Best New Play
  • 1989 Tony Award for Best Play
  • 1989 Pulitzer Prize for Drama

External links

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