"A brilliant play of ideas… a visionary work that bridges the history and culture of two worlds."—Frank Rich, New York Times
Based on a true story that stunned the world, and inspired by Giacomo Puccini's opera Madama Butterfly, M. Butterfly was an immediate sensation when it premiered in 1988. It opens in the cramped prison cell where diplomat Rene Gallimard is being held captive by the French government—and by his own illusions. He recalls a time when Song Liling, the beautiful Chinese diva, touched him with a love as vivid, as seductive—and as elusive—as a butterfly.
How could he have known that his true love was, in fact, a spy for the Chinese government—and a man disguised as a woman? The diplomat relives the twenty-year affair from the temptation to the seduction, from its consummation to the scandal that ultimately consumed them both.
M. Butterfly is one of the most compelling, explosive, and slyly humorous dramas ever to light the Broadway stage, a work of unrivaled brilliance, illuminating the conflict between men and women, the differences between East and West, racial stereotypes—and the shadows we cast around our most cherished illusions.
The original cast included John Lithgow as Gallimard and BD Wong as Song Liling. During the show's 777-performance run, David Dukes, Anthony Hopkins, Tony Randall, and John Rubinstein were also cast as Gallimard. Hwang adapted the play for a 1993 film directed by David Cronenberg, starring Jeremy Irons and John Lone.
TEXT OF THE ORIGINAL BROADWAY PRODUCTION
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Gallimard's prison cell. Paris. 1986.
Lights fade up to reveal RENE GALLIMARD, 40s.
Gallimard: Butterfly, Butterfly . . .
He speaks to us.
I am confined to this cell day and night. And yet, I've found prison to be something of a refuge. This is no doubt due to the fact that I'm not an ordinary prisoner. You see, I'm a celebrity.
I never dreamed this day would arrive. I've never been considered witty or clever. In fact, as a young boy, in an informal poll among my grammar school classmates, I was voted "least likely to be invited to a party." It's a title I managed to hold on to for many years. Despite some stiff competition.
But now, how the tables turn! Look at me: the life of every social function in Paris. Paris? Why be modest? My fame has spread to London, Tokyo, New York. Listen to them! In the world's smartest parties. I'm the one who lifts their spirits!
With a flourish, Gallimard directs our attention to another part of the stage.
A party. 1986.
Well-dressed MEN and WOMEN make conversation. Gallimard observes them from his cell.
Woman 1: And what of Gallimard?
Man 1: Gallimard?
Woman 2, Man 2, and Woman 3: Gallimard!
Woman 1: He still claims not to believe the truth.
Woman 2: What?
Man 1: Still?
Man 2: Even since the trial?
Woman 1: Yes. Isn't it mad?
He says . . .
Man 1 and Woman 3: . . . it was dark . . .
Man 1 and Woman 1: . . . and she was very modest!
Man 2: So-what? He never touched her with his hands?
Woman 1: Perhaps he did, and simply misidentified the equipment.
Woman 2: A compelling case for sex education in the schools.
Woman 3: To protect the national security!
Man 1: Church can't argue with that.
Man 2: That's impossible!
All: How could he not know?
Man 1: Simple ignorance.
Man 2: For twenty years?
Woman 2: Time flies when you're being stupid.
Woman 3: Well, I thought the French were ladies' men.
Woman 1: It seems Monsieur Gallimard was overly anxious to live up to his national reputation.
Man 2: Instead, he's become a national embarrassment.
Woman 2: A laughingstock.
Man 1 and Man 2 : A fool.
Woman 3: Actually, I feel sorry for him.
Woman 1: A toast! To Monsieur Gallimard!
Woman 2 and Woman 3: Yes! To Gallimard!
All: To Gallimard!
Man 1: Vive la diffrence!
They toast, laughing. Lights down on them.
Gallimard: You see? They toast me. I've become patron saint of the socially inept. Can they really be so foolish? Men like that-they should be scratching at my door, begging to learn my secrets! For I, Rene Gallimard, you see, I have known, and been loved by . . . the Perfect Woman.
Alone in this cell, I sit night after night, watching our story play through my head, always searching for a new ending, one that redeems my honor, where she returns at last to my arms. And I imagine you-my ideal audience-who come to understand and even, perhaps just a little, to envy me.
(Over the house speakers, we hear the opening phrases of Madame Butterfly)
In order for you to understand what I did and why, I must introduce you to my favorite opera: Madama Butterfly. By Giacomo Puccini. First produced at La Scala, Milan, in 1904, it is now beloved throughout the Western world.
And why not? Its heroine, Cio-Cio-San, also known as Butterfly, is a feminine ideal, beautiful and brave. My parents took me to the opera only once-as a boy of twelve. I got all dressed up as if for Christmas Mass-and headed into the city to our provincial opera house. A crystal chandelier hung from the ceiling, and a man in a velvet uniform showed us to our plush red seats. Then the room got very quiet, and all the lights went dark. As the curtain rose, I saw . . .
(PINKERTON [played by the actor who will portray MARC], an American naval officer, enters)
Lieutenant Benjamin Franklin Pinkerton of the U.S. Navy.
(Pinkerton lip-syncs over a recording of the "Dovunque al mondo" aria from the opera)
The tenor in his sailor suit sang with such power and beauty. Sweeping my heart towards far-off lands-where a man who loved adventure finds himself with all the world-and a beautiful girl-at his feet. At the time, I barely understood the story. All I really heard-and felt-was the music. So grand and majestic that it carried me away.
SHARPLESS (played by the actor who will portray TOULON) enters.
Gallimard: The Honorable Sharpless, United States Consul to Japan.
Pinkerton: Milk, punch, or whiskey?
Gallimard: Over the years, I came to understand what they're actually singing.
Sharpless: Whiskey. So what's her name?
Pinkerton: Cio-Cio-San. Her friends call her Butterfly. I'm marrying her in Japanese fashion: for 999 years.
Sharpless: That's honorable.
Pinkerton: With the right to cancel my contract every month!
Sharpless: That's not so honorable.
Pinkerton: And you know how much she cost?
Sharpless: Pinkerton! You're not buying her!
Pinkerton: True, it's more like a rental. A hundred yen! That's-what?-a dollar?
Sharpless: Is there any chance-you love her?
Pinkerton: I'm really excited, does that count?
Sharpless: So you're going to break her heart.
Pinkerton: I must have her, pin those delicate wings with my needle, even if they break. America forever!
The American national anthem theme from Madame Butterfly creeps in over the speakers. Pinkerton and Sharpless lip-sync their duet, then exit.
Gallimard: Today, of course, I realize that women who put their total worth at roughly one American dollar are quite hard to find. But when I was a boy, the closest we came was in the pages of girlie magazines. I first discovered them at age ten. In my uncle's house. In his closet-all lined up-my body shook. Here were women-a shelfful-who would do exactly what I wanted.
The "Love Duet" creeps in over the speakers. The upstage special area reveals a PINUP GIRL (the actress who will later play RENEE) in a sexy negligee.
Pinup Girl: I know you're watching me.
Gallimard: My throat . . . it's dry.
Pinup Girl: You want to see, don't you?
Gallimard: Yes. I want to see.
Pinup Girl: Of course you do. Want make to take these off? These flimsy little things?
Gallimard: Yeah, take them off!
Pinup Girl: Oh, you are bad.
Gallimard: Yes, I am bad. I'm going to look at you-
Pinup Girl: So you might as well see-
Gallimard: Whether you like it or-
Pinup Girl: -everything.
Pinup Girl: All of me.
Gallimard: Oh my god.
Pinup Girl: It's what you want, right?
Pinup Girl: Nothing left to the imagination.
Gallimard: Yeah, that's what I want.
Pinup Girl: I want that too.
Gallimard: You do?
Pinup Girl: To show myself to you-without shame.
Gallimard: I-wouldn't have guessed that.
Pinup Girl: So what are you going to do?
Pinup Girl: Now that you've got me, where you want me?
Gallimard: That's right.
Pinup Girl: So?
Gallimard: I've got you.
Pinup Girl: So do it.
Gallimard: I will!
Pinup Girl: Do it now.
Gallimard: Wait, I just . . .
Pinup Girl: What's wrong?
Gallimard: Nothing! I just need a little more . . . time.
Pinup Girl: Guess you're not so bad after all.
Blackout on Pinup Girl.
I closed the magazines. Put them back up on the shelves. And never went into my uncle's closet again. But on that night, at the opera, my body shook once more-with the entrance of Butterfly.
(Music from the opera plays on the house speakers, accompanying a display of Japonaise. Perhaps we see Butterfly's shadow)
As she glides past, beautiful, laughing softly behind her fan, I found myself sighing with hope. Even the son of a butcher could dare to believe, like Pinkerton, that I deserved a Butterfly. She arrives with all her possessions in the folds of her sleeves, lays them all out, for her man to do with as he pleases. Even her life itself-she bows her head as she whispers that she's not even worth the hundred yen he paid for her. He's already given too much, when we know he's really had to give nothing at all.
ƒcole Nationale. Aix-en-Provence. 1955.
Marc: Oh god, turn that blasted wailing down!
Gallimard: Sorry, Marc, I was just-
Marc: Aren't you coming with us?
Gallimard: I can't. I'm writing a paper on Commodore Perry's expedition to Japan, and-
Marc: That can wait! We are going to Dad's villa in Marseille! You know what happened last time?
Gallimard: Of course I do!
Marc: Of course you don't! You never know. . . . They stripped, Rene!
Gallimard: Who stripped?
Marc: The girls!
Gallimard: Girls? Who said anything about girls?
Marc: Rene, we are a buncha university guys goin' to the beach. What are we gonna do-talk philosophy?
Gallimard: What girls? Where do you get them?
Marc: Who cares? Word gets around. Anyway, they come. Wave after wave of hot little lemmings. Crashing up onto our shore.
Gallimard: You mean, they just-?
Marc: Before you know it, every last one of them-they're splashing around the waves. When the moon reflects off the water, you can see just enough-not too much-smooth young flesh, jiggling boobs, tight round asses; just enough, to make them all-perfect. You reach out and whatever you grab-will not disappoint. You're in there, going at it, on and on for as long as you can stand. Feeling like a god.
Gallimard: What happens in the morning?
Marc: In the morning, you're ready to talk some philosophy.
Gallimard: With the girls?
Marc: Huh? No, they're gone by then. That's the beauty part! It's perfect for a guy like you, really.
Gallimard: What do you mean by that?
Marc: You seem to develop a speech impediment every time you come face-to-face with a pair of boobs.
Gallimard: I just-I don't wanna say anything wrong.
Marc: Great, see? They don't even have to say yes.
Gallimard: But what about-the wine? Dinner? Candlelight?
Marc: Oh my god. Moonlight's not good enough for you? Look, you're always gonna stay a virgin-
Gallimard: I'm not a virgin!
Marc: -until you learn to take what you want. I mean, you're not even bad-looking. So how 'bout it?
Gallimard: Maybe next time.
Marc: Fucking hopeless.
Marc walks over to the other side of the stage and starts waving and smiling at women in the audience.
We now return to my version of Madame Butterfly and the events leading to my recent conviction for treason.
(Gallimard notices Marc making lewd gestures at the audience)
Marc, what are you doing?
Marc: Rene, there're a lot of great babes out there. They're no doubt looking at me and thinking, "Ah! A sophisticated Frenchman."
Gallimard: This is my story, not yours.
Marc: More's the pity.
Ë tout ˆ l'heure.
Marc exits, leering.
Gallimard: In Act Two, Pinkerton's returned to America, and Butterfly has given birth to their child. Three years she has faithfully waited for him to return, even turning down a marriage proposal from a Japanese prince. Finally, she spots in the harbor an American ship-the Abramo Lincoln!
(Music cue: "Flower Duet")
This is the moment that redeems her years of waiting.
Agnes: Aren't you ready yet, dear? I'm running late.
She helps him change into his tuxedo.
Gallimard: You're not coming with me tonight?
Agnes: I have the wives' meeting! It's very important for me to establish myself on the female circuit, you know. I'm actually becoming quite good at mah jongg.
I married a woman older than myself-Agnes.
Agnes (cont.): I grew up in Australia, among criminals and kangaroos. My father was ambassador there.
Gallimard: Hearing that brought me to the altar-
-where I opted for a dose of practicality. An unsophisticated boy from a provincial town could still manage a quick leap up the career ladder. She may not be my fantasy woman, but she could help me reach the far-off lands of my dreams.
I married at age twenty-two. I was faithful to my marriage for five years. But practicality had long since lost its charm by the time we arrived in China. The truth is, I yearned to feel more.
(SONG enters-dressed as Cio-Cio-San)
And so that night, as a junior-level diplomat in puritanical Peking, in a parlor at the Swiss ambassador's house, during the Reign of a Hundred Flowers, I first saw her . . . singing the death scene from Madame Butterfly.
Swiss ambassador's house. Beijing. 1964.
The upstage special area now becomes a stage. Several chairs face upstage, representing a parlor. A few "diplomats" in formal dress enter and take seats. Orchestral accompaniment on the tape is now replaced by a simple piano. Song performs the death scene from the point where Butterfly uncovers the hara-kiri knife.
Gallimard: The ending is devastating. Pinkerton sends his American wife to pick up Butterfly's child. The truth, long deferred, has come to her door.
Song, playing Butterfly, sings the lines from the opera in her own voice-which, though not classical, should be decent.
Song: "Con onor muore / chi non pu˜ serbar / vita con onore."
"Death with honor / Is better than life / Life with dishonor."
(Song proceeds to play out an abbreviated death scene. Everyone in the room applauds. Song takes her bows. Others in the room rush to congratulate her. Gallimard remains with us)
They say in opera the voice is everything. Yet here-here was a Butterfly with little or no voice-but she had the grace, the delicacy. I believed this girl. I believed her suffering. I wanted to take her in my arms-so delicate, even I could protect her, take her home, pamper her, ease her pain.
Over the course of the preceding speech, Song has broken from the upstage crowd and moved towards Gallimard.
Song: Excuse me. Monsieur . . . ?
Gallimard: Oh! Gallimard. Mademoiselle . . . ?
Song: "Mademoiselle"? How charming. Song Liling.
Gallimard: A beautiful performance.
Song: Oh, please.
Gallimard: I usually-
Song: You embarrass me. I'm no opera singer at all.
Gallimard: I'm so often disappointed by Butterfly.
Song: I can't blame you in the least.
Gallimard: I mean, the story-
Gallimard: I like the story, but . . . what?