Back in 1988, the Broadway play “M. Butterfly” played like “The Crying Game” — four years before the Neil Jordan film was even released.
“In the original production, a lot of the impact turned on the gender reveal,” David Henry Hwang says in the latest episode of Stagecraft, Variety‘s theater podcast. “But I began to realize that this particular surprise wouldn’t be as shocking 30 years later, because we understand and we’re exposed to many different gender expressions today.”
For the new production (now on Broadway) directed by Julie Taymor and starring Clive Owen, Hwang made some significant changes to the original script, incorporating new information about the true story that inspired the play, about a French diplomat’s romance with a mysterious Chinese opera performer. The new production also adjusts the reveal that — spoiler alert — the performer is a man.
“People say, ‘Oh, it’s not a surprise at the end anymore,'” says Taymor. “It’s not supposed to be a surprise at the end! You know right at the beginning. Ultimately, that’s not even the point.”
Taymor and Hwang add that they auditioned gender-nonconforming actors and a woman for the role that was originated by B.D. Wong and is played in the new production by Jin Ha.
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The duo also talk about the new production’s arresting visual design, plus how you stage a play with 37 scene changes and the things theater does best — before turning to “The Lion King,” the Taymor-directed smash that recently celebrated its 20th birthday.
A Mandarin-language production recently opened in China — which necessitated some contextual changes in tone and dialect. As Taymor notes: “You can’t just have Borscht belt humor show up in Shanghai!”
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