Last Wednesday, I had the singular opportunity to be invited to the Press Reception for the visual spectacle that is M. Butterfly. Held at the Luce Auditorium, we got to meet Frontrow Entertainment Press Relations Officer Toots Tolentino who gave us an idea of what to expect as Dumaguete becomes their next cultural stop as they bring this Tony-award winning play on the road.
M. Butterfly revolves around a French man and his affair with a Chinese opera singer. Mild-mannered Rene Gallimard is a member of the French embassy in China when he meets Chinese opera star Song Liling, a woman whom he considers to be the embodiment of the perfect woman. Written by renowned American playwright David Henry Hwang, this play is loosely based on the real-life affair between French diplomat Bernard Boursicot and Peking opera singer, Shi Pei Pu. Debuting on the Broadway stage in 1988, it bagged the Tony Award for Best Play in the same year.
The staging of M. Butterfly on the Philippine stage features RS Francisco who won the Aliw Award for Best Actor for his role as enigmatic Chinese Opera singer Song Liling. He first played the role of Gallimard’s object of affection in May 1990 for Dulaang UP opposite veteran actor and writer Behn Cervantes. His alternate is rising theater star Aira Igarta, an original member of the Kurogo ensemble and a film actor from the Theatre Arts Program of UP Diliman. Igarte is trained by theater bigwigs Tony Fabella and Luther Perez.
Other actors playing key roles are Philippine theater royalty Jenine Desiderio as Helga, Gallimard’s wife; French actor Olivier Borten as embattled French diplomat Rene Gallimard; Scottish actor Norm McLeod as Manuel Toulon, the French Ambassador to China; American actor Lee O’Brian as Marc, Gallimard’s irreverent and sexually unapologetic best friend; Mayen Estañero as Suzuki, Comrade Chin, and Shu Fang; Maya Encila as the stunning Renee; and Jasmin Salvo as the Opera singer. Membesr of the ensemble playing the role of Kurogo are Pheith Iena Ballug, Ullyses Basa, Sasa Cabalquinto, Franco Ferrer, and John Paul Ortenero.
Bringing the show to life are Tony and Grammy award-winning producer producer Jhett Tolentino; director Kankanan Balintagos; co-producer RS Francisco; set director Ohm David; costume designer Eric Pineda; lightning director John Batalla; sound director Jethro Joaquin; music director Joed Balsamo; and choreographer Carissa Adea.
I will be writing a full review of the play for Zephyr’s next issue. If you have not watched this Aliw Award-winning play (it bagged Best Actor, Best Play, and Best Director) yet, it is not too late. You can still catch it on its last two shows on Sunday, March 3, at 2:00pm and at 7:00pm at the Luce Auditorium.
The M. Butterfly National Tour benefits 10 charitable institutions including Iloilo Prima Galaw, Philippine National Red Cross Iloilo Chapter, The Children of Cebu Foundation, Silliman University Culture and Arts Council, the Arts Council of Cebu Foundation, Halfway Home for the Boy, and St. Louis University Culture and Arts Center.