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RS Francisco’s Full Circle: A Review of 'M Butterfly'

Originally performed on a Broadway stage in 1988, David Henry Hwang’s masterpiece M Butterfly is a brilliant dissection of both the East/West dichotomy, and that of the male/female divide—and all that lies in between. Loosely based on the real life case and prosecution (in 1986) of French diplomat Bernard Boursicot, over his 20 year affair with Peking opera singer Shi Pei Pu; the drama remains a potent theatrical journey about Love, Illusion, and the Llfe we choose, with the two main protagonists reinvented as Rene Gallimard and Song Liling. 

 

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

9 days to go!! #MButterflyMNL

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First staged here in Manila in 1990, directed by the venerable Tony Mabesa, the DUP production starred Behn Cervantes as Gallimard, and a young neophyte actor named RS Francisco as Song. To find that 28 years later, RS is once again playing the role of Song in this production boggles the mind—and that he does so, so effectively invites disbelief, but that is the wonderful, inescapable fact about this new production directed by Kanakan Balintagos, and produced by Jhett Tolentino and Front Row Entertainment. It runs until September 30 at the Maybank Performing Arts Theater, and 100% of the ticket sales will be earmarked for selected charities, advocacies, and foundations. 

For those familiar with the play, or the David Cronenberg film version, be ready to be utterly surprised. Yes, the bare bones are still present; but via Balintagos’ directorial vision, the lavish set design of Ohm David, and the splendid costume design of Eric Pineda, there’s a new standard for Philippine stage productions being benchmarked via this production, and we are constantly treated to a new, glossier version of M Butterfly. There are timely shafts of humor created via the nuanced direction; and as our guide to all the proceedings, Olivier Borten as narrator and participant Gallimard, is a transfixing presence. He wonderfully stitches together the shifts in time and place, the shifts between Puccini’s Madame Butterfly, life in the diplomatic and expat circles of 1960’s China, and flashbacks to his boyhood in Paris - and the period in France subsequent to Gallimard’s three year affair with Song. 

 

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

Four days to go!!! #MButterflyMNL ??

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And of course there is RS Francisco. Like some conquering hero, RS returns to this role that ‘made’ him, and gives it a new sheen and sensibility that transports us to a new and better version of his 1990 self. If back then there was a freshness, vulnerability, and enthusiasm in his attack of the role that carried him to acclaim; he’s now added layers on to that attack, giving us a textured reinterpretation. 
 

 

Yes, I’ll admit there is an element of a band performing it’s greatest hits to this reincarnation; but that’s like asking would we still watch Paul McCartney performing "Michelle", "Blackbird" or "Band on the Run"—and we all know, the answer to that is a resounding yes. And just like that, there is sheer magic in watching RS once again don the gowns, do the walk, flirt and tease, or play coy, while laying the honeytrap that ensnares Gallimard.
 

 

RS has come a long way since those 1990 days of DUP’s M Butterfly; but through this production, we see how yes, there have been changes—but yes, he’s also that same person. Do rush and catch this before it comes to a close at the end of the month.

 

Photos from @mbutterflymnl