Julie Taymor Directs David Henry Hwang’s Re-Tooled Play
On October 26, 2017, M. Butterfly had its officialy opening night at the Cort Theatre, where it had been running in previews since October 7, 2017. Presently scheduled for an open-ended run, the play may end up announcing its closing date quite soon, as unfortunately, the reviews have just come out, and they are far from positive. M. Butterfly debuted on Broadway in March 1988, following an out-of-town try-out in Washington, D.C. That production, which starred John Lithgow and BD Wong, was a smash success, winning the Tony Award for Best Play, in addition to an acting award for BD Wong and a directing award for John Dexter. In addition, David Henry Hwang’s play was a finalist for the 1989 Pulitzer Prize for Drama. The current Broadway revival is highly anticipated, due to the fact that it is directed by Julie Taymor, the highly lauded conceiver of the long-running The Lion King musical. However, Taymor has also had her moments of infamy, specifically when she helmed the ill-fated stage musical Spiderman: Turn Off the Dark. Nevertheless, hopes were high for this production, also because in tandem with Taymor, David Henry Hwang re-tooled the script for the purposes of the revival, bringing in more details from the actual facts surrounding the true events. Starring Clive Owen and newcomer Jin Ha, the production had the makings of a marvelous spectacle with political and social resonance.
Despite all of the promise that this production displayed on paper, the critical response was largely negative. Ben Brantley from the New York Times must have patted himself on the back when he came up with the first line of his review: “Maybe they should called it “M. Moth.”” He went on to discuss how the changes made to the play actually had a negative impact on the majestic original work, and how Julie Taymor failed to introduce any of her trademark expansive visuals. Matt Windman from AM New York was equally disappointed, giving it one star out of four. He called the production “seriously misguided and marred,” and deemed the rewrites “extensive, unnecessary, and most detrimental.” David Rooney from The Hollywood Reporter also disliked the efforts to remove the illusion from a work that revolves around the erotic deception of its protagonists. While he admitted that M. Butterfly remains a provocative drama and an important milestone for an Asian-American playwright, he believes that Taymor and Hwang undercut its pathos with this reworking. Joe Dziemianowicz from the New York Daily News states that the production flaps its wings but never takes flight, calling out the “wan star turn,” the “clumsy staging,” and the “nagging issues” in the script. Strangely, Barbara Schuler from Newsday was positive in her review, calling it “eerily timely” and remarking on the “beauty” of the production.
Room for Growth at the Box Office
In the 3 full or partial weeks of preview performances of M. Butterfly whose box office figures have been reported to date, the show demonstrated a reasonable amount of traction, which could have potentially grown into real buzz if the reviews were positive. However, given the undeniably negative response from critics, it is unlikely that M. Butterfly will ever rise to those heights it once hoped it might achieve. In the last reported week of box office numbers, the week ending October 22, 2017, M. Butterfly brought in a weekly gross of $640,097 over 8 performances, which represents 68.10% of its gross potential. With a top ticket price of $225.00, the average paid admission was $85.47, and the audience was filled up to an average of 88.6% of capacity. Over the course of the run so far, the show has brought in an average of 71.17% of its box office potential. However, these numbers are likely to decrease once the negative reviews spread, and it may be the case that the show will not ever reach these numbers again, perhaps not until the closing weeks.
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