Culture and the Arts Entertainment

‘M Butterfly: The great wall of illusion’

Ibarra C. Mateo

(Photo courtesy of Frontrow Entertainment)

INTERNATIONALLY awarded film and stage director and playwright Kanakan Balintagos declared that in these era of disinformation, news fabrication, and historical revisionism, it is easy to fall for the story of the Chinese Peking Opera star, Song Liling, who had fooled a French diplomat for 20 years of his/her gender.

Balintagos (Auraeus Solito), in a recent media event, said “M Butterfly, based on a true story, “is truer than ever, more relevant today than when it was originally written in 1988 by the great David Henry Hwang.”

M Butterfly “unveils the truth in the Great Wall of Illusion that envelops us all,” Balintagos said.

“I originally encountered M Butterfly in a directing class of (UP Prof.) Tony Mabesa in 1990 and had a glance of RS Francisco as he was the actor of my classmate Clint Ramos, who would eventually win a Tony for Best Costume Design. Who would have thought that RS would actually be the Song Liling in the Dulaang UP staging and I would be directing the play many decades later,” Balintagos said.

“Authenticity is my super intention as a director. That is why I aimed for an all-Caucasian male cast – where the conflict and the biases between the West and the East / male and female – the animus and anima – will be more visually apparent,” he told reporters.

“I always say I love directing profound emotions with my actors – and it is exciting that RS will reprise his role, after almost three decades when he is age-appropriate. He was only 18 when he did it brilliantly. Can you all imagine how he will do it now?,” Balintagos said.

“I am also ecstatic to be working with Tony Award-winning producer Jhett Tolentino, a true professional and passionate lover of theatre,” Balintagos said.

Balintagos shared with reporters how he prepares for directing theater pieces.

“Since I began as a playwright, I always focus on motivations of the characters in a play, and try to rediscover the subliminal subconscious intentions of the playwright.

M Butterfly, the 1988 Tony Award Winner for Best Play and written by David Henry Hwang, opened on Sept. 13 at the Maybank Performing Arts Theater, BGC Arts Center, Bonifacio Global City.

It is presented by Tony and Grammy award winning producer, Jhett Tolentino and Frontrow Entertainment.

M Butterfly was inspired by Giaccomo Puccini’s opera “Madame Butterfly” and was loosely based on events surrounding a 1986 espionage trial about a mysterious Chinese opera singer and a French diplomat.

French diplomat René Gallimard, based in the French embassy in China, meets and falls in love with Chinese opera star Song Liling, a “woman whom he considers to be the embodiment of the perfect woman, a Madame Butterfly.”

RS Francisco reprises his iconic portrayal of Song Liling, the Chinese opera singer who is Gallimard’s object of affection and seduces him through his biases of the East then exploits their intimacy to collect classified information for agents of the Chinese Communist Party.

In May 1990, Francisco essayed this role for Dulaang UP opposite veteran actor, writer, and critic Behn Cervantes to critical acclaim and box office success.

Extended runs played to full house theater audiences and tours to the key cities in Luzon, Visayas, and Mindanao marked this poignant drama’s run in Philippine theater history.

When the M Butterfly was revived recently on Broadway, Francisco considered re-staging it for contemporary audience.

French actor Olivier Borten plays the role of Gallimard, the French diplomat who relates the story of his passionate, disastrous affair with Song Liling from his cell in a Paris prison, where he is serving a long sentence for treason.

Theater actress Pinky Amador, who has starred in Cameron Mackintosh’s Miss Saigon and in a long list of plays, movies, and television shows, portrays Gallimard’s wife – Helga.

The two married as a matter of convenience; Helga’s father had diplomatic connections that helped Gallimard rose to prominence.

After 25 years of stage acting experience in the United Kingdom, Scottish Norm McLeod acts in the Philippines, playing the role of Manuel Toulon, the French Ambassador to China, who also happens to be the dominant and strong-willed superior of Gallimard at the embassy in Beijing. Toulon promotes Gallimard to vice-consul, giving him the task of collecting information to aid the American war in Vietnam.

Trilingual American actor Lee O’Brian plays Marc, the sexually unapologetic best friend of Gallimard. He encourages Gallimard to take sexual advantage of the women around him without regard for their feelings or even their consent. O’Brian will also briefly portray Sharpless in M Butterfly.

Playing the role of both Suzuki and Comrade Chin is Rebecca Chuaunsu. Comrade Chin is a member of the Red Guards. Song communicates with Comrade Chin often, to pass on the classified information he gathers from Gallimard.

The members of the ensemble playing the role of Kurogo are: John Paul Ortenero, Pheit Lena Ballug, Kay Megan Kierulf, Aira Jay Igarta, Ulysses Basa, and Rica Nepomuceno.

Members of the artistic team are: Kanakan Balintagos (direction), Jhett Tolentino and RS Francisco (producers), Eric Pineda (costume design), Ohm David (set design), Jethro Joaquin (sound design) John Batalla (lights), Gery Penaso (make-up designer for Song Liling)

For tickets, call TICKETWORLD at 8919999. For inquiries, please contact Isha Germentil at 0917- 623-3834).


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Ibarra C. Mateo
A journalist since 1983, Ibarra C. Mateo is also an editor, a researcher, and a communication consultant.

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