Tuesday, March 5, 2013

8: M. Butterfly - David Henry Hwang

SONG: The West has sort of an international rape mentality towards the East. Do you know rape mentality?
JUDGE: Give us your definition, please.
SONG: Basically, "Her mouth says no, but her eyes say yes." The West thinks of itself as masculine - big guns, big industry, big money - so the East is feminine - weak, delicate, poor...but good at art, and full of inscrutable wisdom - the feminine mystique...The West believes the East, deep down, wants to be dominated - because a woman can't think for herself.

"M. Butterfly" was recommended to me by a classmate after I mentioned that I wanted to write a paper on "Kiss of the Spider Woman" because there are a lot of eerie similarities. At this point, I have only read the play, but I look forward to watching the movie version, although I really want to see the original staging with John Lithgow as the main character.

DHH was inspired to write the play after finding out about the real life events where French diplomat Bernard Boursicot was arrested as a Chinese spy for giving sensitive information to his lover of 20 years...who turned out to be a cismale...without Bernard ever knowing it, although DHH maintains that he did not do very much investigating into the real life events because he had no intention of writing a historical drama. 

I have never seen the opera Madame Butterfly, but based on the summary of it within the play (and by DHH in the notes for directors and actors at the end) this play essentially turns the plot on its head. Actually this play turns everything on its head. 

It is just...entirely wonderful. The way that it showcases how men fetishize "Oriental" women as submissive, humble, modest, man pleasers, lotus blossom butterfly geisha girl whatevers is marvelous - even more so because this butterfly is completely in control and the man is completely being played. 

One of the things that is very intriguing to me based on my own experience with trans people is that they are either okay with coming across as a little genderqueer and don't mind existing more towards the middle of the gender spectrum OR they are completely invested in coming across at the (more stereotypical) ends of the gender spectrum. Both Molina from "Kiss of the Spider Woman" and Song in "M. Butterfly" are the femmiest girls who embrace all stereotypes of women. Song, being not actually transgender, but just an actor doing a brilliant job, has interesting commentary on that in the play. He is discussing why women's roles are played by men in the Peking Opera and determines that "only a man knows how a woman is supposed to act." The direct and indirect commentary on what men and women want out of a romantic or sexual relationship is also brilliantly done and incredibly fun to read. Song knows what men want in a perfect woman and sets out to give Rene Gallimard exactly that - and Gallimard is ecstatic and powerdrunk from having attention from any beautiful women - being an awkward, older, not terribly attractive man himself. The cruelty he shows is astounding, and sadly true to life. 

The way that it demonstrates the imperial colonizing attitude is disgusting - there is nothing really fun there besides a bunch of eye rolls from the accuracy.

If you enjoy reading plays, this one is definitely worth a read. If you don't, I would highly recommend seeing a staging of it or the movie version which I look forward to watching later this week.

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