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'M. Butterfly' creates clash of cultures, values, gender identity

M. Butterfly currently play weekends at Kansas City's Metropolitan Ensemble Theatre from Jan. 9-26.  For tickets and information contact the box office online at:  metkc.org
M. Butterfly currently play weekends at Kansas City's Metropolitan Ensemble Theatre from Jan. 9-26. For tickets and information contact the box office online at: metkc.org
Bob Paisley

M. Butterfly

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East meets West in a psychological drama, M. Butterfly, a unique take on the Puccini opera Madame Butterfly, now playing at Kansas City’s Metropolitan Ensemble Theatre from Jan. 9-27.

Vi Tran stars as the title character in Kansas City's Metropolitan Ensemble Theatre's version of M. Butterfly.
Vi Tran stars as the title character in Kansas City's Metropolitan Ensemble Theatre's version of M. Butterfly.
Manon Halliburton

Stand up and cheer for the tandem of Robert Gibby Brand and Vi Tran as Rene Gallimard and Song, in this masterfully written drama where lines between masculine and feminine blur and Gallimard is forced to reexamine his reality and come to terms with his past and present.

Metropolitan Ensemble Theatre continues its string of blockbuster classic plays with the current production of the 1998 Tony Award winning, M. Butterfly, directed by Linda Ade Brand. M. Butterfly comes from the pen of playwright, David Henry Hwang, and features elements and talents of local Asian actors and dance.

M. Butterfly’s three week run began Jan. 9 and continues through Jan. 26 with 14 scheduled performances, many expected to sell out, according the MET box office. Ticket demand is strong before the show opens.

M. Butterfly examines humanity's propensity for desire, self-deception, betrayal and regret. According to the playwright, the drama also penetrates the common myths of eastern and western civilization, as well as the myths about gender identity.

The MET version utilizes a minimum of props and relies on the actors to carry the show. The costumes for the Butterfly character are astounding and deserve praise and special note. Director Linda Brand’s concept of the show stripped the actors of intricate sets and props and replaced that with a microscopic focus on the story, the theme, and the characters portrayed by her ensemble of actors.

“The artists involved are doing beautiful, generous extraordinary work. I am so proud and humbled to have this play on our stage and the artists in it ” Karen Paisley, artistic director of the MET, said, of the Jan. 6 rehearsals.

According to a press release from the MET, “Shamed and imprisoned, 65-year-old French diplomats, Rene Gallimard contemplates the events that led to a shocking and embarrassing international scandal by taking the audience through a series of flashbacks to explain his situation and his insistence that he had been loved by the perfect woman.

“While working for the French embassy in China, Rene fell in love with a Song Liling, the dazzling performer in the Peking Opera's presentation of Madame Butterfly. For more than twenty years, they carried on a passionate love affair during which time the performer stole secrets on behalf of the Chinese Communist party.”

The play does contain a major twist and bends some gender identification values. That twist of fate causes Gallimard to search for the ugly truth that evaded him and discovers that he must face all the psychological torment he failed to see previously. Harsh reality awaits him. To find out the sinister situations, come experience the play in person.

Robert Gibby Brand gives one of his trademark strong portrayals as Gallimard. His story and memoirs create the story of M. Butterfly. His character development grows from a weaker character in the flashback to a character full of rage, anger, disgrace, humility, and pathos as the show ends. He brings each emotion to the forefront of his character and to the audience.

“It's important to grow and stretch, to be brave as artists. I am always proud of the work we do at MET, and that everyone does all over town really, but I think this play and these performances are going to turn out to be something special. Really. I hope you'll come and share it with us. Your presence will make it complete,” Paisley said.

In the creation of M. Butterfly, Jamie H.J. Guan, who introduced himself as a choreographer, consultant and performer in the original 1988 Broadway production offered to come to Kansas City and assist the Metropolitan Ensemble Theatre, with their production.

Robert Brand said that his association with Guan was tantamount to his final scene in M. Butterfly. “He looked me in the eyes and said, ‘This is how you do that scene.’ It was so powerful that it brought tears. That’s where I draw the final scene each performance. I knew so little of the culture and he gave us so much. We all grew with his help. I am so thankful for his input.”

As for the object of Gallimard’s affection and source of his demise, Vi Tran understands the character of Song, a.k.a. Butterfly. Tran masterfully works his magic to sell the deception and make the audience buy in. He succeeds and plays the part with flair. Tran must be feminine as well as masculine. He needs to be demure and diminutive, yet strong, willful, and deceptive. He must be tender and vicious, too. He succeeds in all aspects of the characterization.

Performances run Jan 9-11, 15-18, 22-25 at 7:30p.m. Sunday performances on Jan.12, 19, and 26 begin at 2p.m.

Besides the two leads of Brand and Tran, M. Butterfly includes, Bob Paisley, Amy Kelly, Alan Tilson, Nancy Nail, Erika Crane Ricketts, Chelsea Anglemeyer, Ai Vy Bui, Eric Palmquist, and Sean Yeung.

Yes M. Butterfly focuses on the two main characters, but the supporting cast brings some interesting characters to the mix. Bob Paisley can wear any hat with dignity and poise. His acting is so accurate for each character he develops. In M. Butterfly he continues that streak.

Alan Tilson can play any character given to him and do it with style and flair. Such is the case again in M. Butterfly. Even though not on stage a lot, Tilson brings a strong stage presence to his character.

Nancy Nail, delivers a convincing woman-wronged character as a suffering wife who steadfastly supports her husband and turns a blind eye to his infidelities. Her character must bring to focus the fears of a woman facing divorce and the shame of not holding on to her husband.

And, Erika Crane Ricketts, a regular actor at Olathe Civic Theatre Association (OCTA) steps out in a small, but demanding role of a Communist Chinese official working for intelligence and insight into American strategies for the War in Vietnam. Ricketts gives great characterization in a role that encourages her growth.

For tickets, visit the website metkc.org or call the box office at 816.569.3226. Tickets are $15 (artists only opening weekend), $25, $27, or $30 depending on the date.