South Coast Repertory is presenting David Henry Hwang’s M. Butterfly, a tale of obsession, perception and the allure of fantasy. Hwang’s break-out hit-a Tony Award-winner and Pulitzer Prize finalist-is about more than steamy seduction and fantasy; inspired by a true account, it’s a compelling story of espionage, East-West relations and betrayal. Desdemona Chiang, in her SCR debut, directs the show on the Segerstrom Stage through June 8. Tickets are available online at www.scr.org.
The story starts in 1986, with René Gallimard in prison, where he’s serving a sentence for treason. Through a series of flashbacks, his tale unfolds beginning with his time as a member of the French embassy in China during the Cultural Revolution when he fell in love with Song Liling, a Chinese opera star. A longtime fan of Puccini’s opera, Madame Butterfly, Gallimard considers Song to be the perfect woman. But Song is not who she claims to be.
“M. Butterfly is a play about the allure of exceptionalism and the lengths a person will go to achieve and preserve it,” said Chiang. “Gallimard is a man who was unremarkable and inconsequential his entire life, until he met Song, a woman who made him feel like the most important person in the world; that feeling of exceptionalism-of uniqueness, of rare singularity-is very hard to let go of. Sometimes we’d rather persist in a fantasy where we focus on perfection and beauty rather than face the fact that the world is messy and a place where suffering is actually more painful than romantic, and where we are merely average.”
Hwang has had a nearly three-decade relationship with SCR, which premiered his Golden Child (1997) and produced Chinglish (2013, with Berkeley Repertory Theatre). His other stage works include the plays Yellow Face, Kung Fu, The Dance and the Railroad and FOB, as well as the Broadway musicals Aida (co-author), Flower Drum Song (2002 revival) and Disney’s Tarzan. Hwang is a Tony Award winner and three-time nominee; a three-time Obie Award winner; and a two-time Pulitzer Prize winner. He is America’s most-produced living opera librettist, whose works have been honored with two Grammy Awards. He is a writer and consulting producer for the Golden Globe Award-winning television series, “The Affair”. He is currently penning the live-action feature musical adaptation of The Hunchback of Notre Dame for Disney Studios. He serves as head of playwriting at Columbia University and as chair of the American Theatre Wing. His newest work, Soft Power, with composer Jeanine Tesori, premiered in 2018 at Center Theatre Group and will open in New York this fall.
Chiang is based in Ashland, Ore., and Seattle, where she is a founder and co-artistic director of Azeotrope. Her recent directing credits include Guthrie Theatre, Oregon Shakespeare Festival, Seattle Repertory Theatre, Pittsburgh Public Theatre, and Baltimore Center Stage.
The cast includes Jake Manabat (as Song Liling), who was the understudy for Song in the 2017-18 Broadway revival of M. Butterfly. His other credits include the national tour of Rent, “Madam Secretary,” “Lilyhammer” and “Bored to Death.” Lucas Verbrugghe (as René Gallimard) appeared on Broadway in Bloody Andrew Jackson and The Ritz; his other credits include Our Idiot Brother, “Grimm” and the “Law & Order” franchise. Also featured are SCR veterans from this and past seasons: Aaron Blakely (How to Write a New Book for the Bible); Melody Butiu (A Christmas Carol, Naked Mole Rat Gets Dressed: The Rock Experience, Shipwriected!, The Intelligent Design of Jenny Chow); Stephen Caffrey (Shakespeare in Love, SHREW!), Nike Doukas (Sense and Sensibility, All the Way), Juliana Hansen (Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street); and dancers Annika Alejo, Yoko Hasebe and Andres Lanang.
The creative team includes Ralph Funicello, scenic design; Sara Ryung Clement, costume design; Josh Epstein, lighting design; André Pluess, sound design; Annie Yee, choreography; and Joanne DeNaut, CSA, casting. The production managers are Holly Ahlborn and Matthew E. Chandler and the stage manager is Moira Gleason.
Generous support for this production comes from Honorary Producers Geoff and Valerie Fearns, and Michael Ray. The media partner is KPCC. South Coast Plaza is the season sponsor for the Segerstrom Stage.
Tickets start at $23. Discounts are available for full-time students, patrons 25 years of age and under, fulltime educators, seniors and groups of 10 or more. Recommendation: This show is recommended for high school age and above. Note: this show contains adult language, sexuality and nudity. For complete information, visit: www.scr.org