Offender and Tony Award-winning playwright David Henry Hwang’s play M. BUTTERFLY is coming back to Broadway (now in previews, opening Oct. 26) in a new production directed by Julie Taymor (THE LION KING) and starring Clive Owen (THE KNICK). The New York Times spoke to DHH about the revival covering topics ranging from how this newly revised version of M. BUTTERFLY is different and the impact the play has had on the Asian American community:
You worry about cultural impact rather than “Can we get a production of the same caliber?”
I think the two are related. Part of the reason “M. Butterfly” worked the first time around is because I was collaborating with a director who really understood how to use the theater. When [the producer] Nelle Nugent and I started talking about Julie Taymor, that was a really exciting notion.
Because her visual sense is so acute, I sometimes feel she doesn’t get enough credit for the degree to which she is fundamentally focused on story and character. Julie was asking a lot of questions about the text. She wanted to make sure that I was clear about what Song’s motivations were and Song’s point of view as well as Gallimard’s, because so much of the show is taken from Gallimard’s point of view.
Did that make you want to clarify things in the text?
Coming back to it now, it’s still not a docudrama, but there were aspects to the real story which we both felt could complicate the story in an interesting way and also bring out more strongly, I hope, Song’s point of view and Song’s experience in that relationship. And that led to going back into the text. I wasn’t sure, because it’s a play that’s very much associated with me and it was successful the first time around and did I really want to mess with it. But I really loved going back and reacquainting myself with those characters.
The dilemmas that they’re dealing with continue to be a lot of core issues that I face as a writer, whether they have to do with questions of identity or the fluidity of that identity, how the way we perceive ourselves changes given our social context changing. That’s the soil that I like to till…
How different is (the play)?
There’s a lot of tweaking of specifics in order to create more three-dimensionality, create more nuance, enrich the love story and try to balance out the Song and Gallimard points of view a little.
One specific example: Shi Pei Pu, who was the actual spy, played in a Chinese opera called “Butterfly Lovers.” “Butterfly Lovers” is nowadays a very popular Chinese story. It also is about gender confusion. So we have kind of incorporated an awareness of “Butterfly Lovers” into this version of the story.
What impact did the success of “M. Butterfly” have on Asian-American representation in the theater?
I think it meant something that there, (A), was a play by an Asian-American author on Broadway and, (B), that it was successful. Has that led to the gates being opened over the past 30 years? Not really. For a long time, I continued to be the only Asian-American author that was ever done on Broadway.
There’s been a big explosion of Asian-American playwrights and talent Off Broadway and in the regions. In general, Broadway continues to be not inclusive in a way that represents the population. It is just a good business model to begin to diversify both the faces and the stories that exist in the theater — as TV is starting to learn.
Did you expect progress to move faster in the wider culture?
I expected it to move faster over the last 20 years, and I’m kind of encouraged by the degree to which the pace has picked up over the last, say, three to four years. It feels like maybe there’s a tipping point going on.
To read the full interview, go to The NYT: New Flight for a New ‘Butterfly’
RELATED: Check out this companion NYT piece “5 Artists on How ‘M. Butterfly’ Changed Their Lives” including interviews with artists like B.D. Wong who starred in the original M. BUTTERFLY and actor/activist George Takei.