Broadway debut

This 30-Year-Old Play About Gender And Asian Identity Is More Relevant Than Ever by David Hwang

Jin Ha as Song Liling. Photo by Matthew Murphy.

Jin Ha as Song Liling. Photo by Matthew Murphy.

When M. Butterfly premiered on Broadway in 1988, audiences were stunned to discover that the central character, Song Liling, was actually a man. Nearly 30 years later, as the revival runs at the Cort Theatre, the cat is out of the bag.

The story of M. Butterfly, which won three Tony Awards including Best Play, is now more well known than the real-life story it was based on — the affair between French diplomat Bernard Boursicot and Peking opera singer Shi Pei Pu. The culture has also progressed, and with it our language and sensitivity surrounding gender identity: The reveal of a character’s gender as a surprise twist, once a feature of M. Butterfly, now seems like a dangerously regressive relic.

That’s something playwright David Henry Hwang was well-aware of when he set about revising his play for a new production directed by Julie Taymor. In revisiting his seminal work, Hwang undertook a heavy rewrite, one in which Song’s gender is addressed early on — and the themes of toxic masculinity and Asian gender stereotypes are as clear as ever.

Read the full story at Buzzfeed.

M. Butterfly is Back and Better Than Before by David Hwang


Frank H. Wu, Contributor
Author, Yellow: Race in America Beyond Black and White

"Playwright David Henry Hwang is not aware of this, but as a journalist I have long looked up to him as an older brother type figure. That would be appropriate in the Chinese culture from which we both are descended, and even in the American culture to which each of us has assimilated. He is not only a bona fide writer; he is a commercially successful one. Hwang’s big hit, M. Butterfly, has been revived on Broadway with a touched-up script, directed by Julie Taymor of Lion King fame and Spiderman infamy, starring Clive Owen, the cerebral action hero in movies such as Children of Men and the BMW short ads. I saw it immediately, and I was impressed. What follows is an appreciation, not a proper review. Hwang and I have had maybe a half-dozen conversations since as a student a decade younger I invited him to speak on campus, and he told me as I drove him from the airport that his parents had wanted him to become a lawyer. We are friendly enough I would not presume to evaluate his work. His achievement deserves admiration though: he has expressed what many of us have thought halfway but not been able to put into words clearly. There is nobody else doing what he does."

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Jin Ha Earns His Wings in New M. Butterfly Broadway Revival by David Hwang

Photography: Daniel Seung Lee

Photography: Daniel Seung Lee

There are Broadway debuts, and then there are Broadway debuts that merit their own reaction GIF. Enter Jin Ha. Two years ago, he was studying acting at NYU, and now he’s been chosen by Julie Taymor to star in her revival of M. Butterfly, one of the most anticipated shows of the year.

“Trust me, it’s unbelievable,” says Ha, sitting at a French bistro in Manhattan’s theater district. “If I were to hear this third-person, I’d be like, ‘Are you kidding me?’ "