David Hwang gives R.S. a âperfect 10â
M. Butterfly author David Henry Hwang (center) with the musical’s Manila producers Tony/Grammy winner Jhett Tolentino (left) and R.S. Francisco (of Frontrow Entertainment) who reprises his role as Song Liling

David Hwang gives R.S. a ‘perfect 10’

FUNFARE - Ricky Lo (The Philippine Star) - October 1, 2018 - 12:00am

On the same night he arrived in Manila last Thursday, flying more than 15,000 miles from New York where he is based with his wife and their two children, M. Butterfly author David Henry Hwang was seated beside Jhett Tolentino at the Maybank Performing Arts Theater in BGC (Bonifacio Global City) watching yet another staging of the 30-year-old musical that has won him a Tony Award for Best Play. Himself a Tony/Grammy winner, Jhett is co-producing the musical with the Frontrow Entertainment headed by R.S. Francisco who is reprising the role as Song Liling 28 years after the first time he played it when he was only 18.

On Friday, Funfare talked to David before the lunch presscon at a suite in Seda Hotel, a stone’s throw from a hotel he has been billeted until today when he flies back to New York. Asked to assess the presentation, David said, “It’s a beautiful production. I think that all the theatrical elements are beautifully put together. The opera singer (A new addition to the musical. – RFL) is pretty fantastic.”

R.S. and David: A round of applause for the musical’s successful (read: SRO nightly) run from Sept. 13 to 30

Barely showing any signs of jetlag, David broke into a wide smile when asked further how he would rate R.S.’ performance on a scale of 1 to 10. (Cast as the French diplomat Rene Gallimard is French actor Olivier Borten. “The actor is French who really speaks with a French accent. And that’s very unique.” Noted David.)

“Definitely R.S. is a Perfect 10! He really commands the stage and you can’t take your eyes off him. He has been so much a part of the show. They are both identified with each other. M. Butterfly is a part of his life.”

And the whole production?

“Also a 10,” added David. “I’m very proud of it. I really like the impressionistic aspect of the production. It’s like a montage of the different characters, it’s very powerful.

Said Jhett, a good friend of David’s, “We wanted David to see it fresh.”

Continued David, “I like the way the production created a vision of what’s going on in Gallimard’s mind. That sets the tone for the seamless recreation of a man struggling to understand something.”

The last time David was in the Philippines was in 2011 to hold acting workshops. Before that, in 2008 he graced the gala premiere of his other play, Golden Child, at the Cultural Center of the Philippines (CVCP) as opening of the Tanghalang Pilipino’s 22nd theater season. What’s so special about R.S. (and Jhett) that he would fly halfway around the world to watch a musical that he had watched a hundred times? David smiled even wider.

David says that R.S. ‘commands the stage,’ with French actor Olivier Borten as the French diplomat Rene Gallimard

“Three reasons,” David admitted. “One, I always find an excuse to visit the Philippines which has a special place in my heart. I was born and grew up in Los Angeles but when I was a kid I used to visit my grandparents in Cebu. I remember one summer when my grandma got ill and I came to visit her. I have relatives and friend here.

“Two, I really wanted to watch R.S. perform as Song Liling who is iconic and legendary for his performance of the character. I wasn’t able to watch him during his first performance and I’m happy that I was finally able to watch him last night.

“Three, there has been a lot of M. Butterfly productions and there will be more M. Butterfly productions but I don’t really watch all of them. But I don’t want to miss this one.”

Said Jhett, with a twinkle in his eyes, “David can’t say no to me. He is also watching the final show tomorrow night (Sept. 30).”

Did David see the presentation the way he had expected it?

“More than I expected,” admitted David. “The play has been interpreted in different ways, so I don’t have a definitive version of it. You see, it has been 30 years!”

Could he recall how many times he had watched it?

David Henry Hwang

“Gosh, I’ve seen so many versions! It’s just a question of when I see one, I ask myself…How is this one going to work? Is it working for me? Is it telling the story? Am I feeling something? Am I engaged?”

Happily, for the R.S./Jhett version it’s a big yes(!) to all questions..

Does David get the same (old) feeling every time he watches it?

“I feel different things with every different production. With this one, I really felt engaged. All the way through and until the end, I really found it very powerful.”

By the way, what part of M. Butterfly makes David cry?

David broke into a little laugh before he replied.

“I never cry over my work,” adding seriously, “but I’m always moved towards the end of the show.”

(Postscript: Jhett Tolentino announced that M. Butterfly will go on provincial tour from Jan. 6 to Feb. 19, 2019, in partnership with SM Cinemas. Consisting of 29 performances, the tour will cover Iloilo, Davao, Cebu, Dumaguete and Baguio.)

 (E-mail reactions at rickylophilstar@gmail.com. For more updates, photos and videos, visit www.philstar.com/funfare or follow me on Instagram @therealrickylo.)

DAVID HENRY HWANG JHETT TOLENTINO M. BUTTERFLY R.S. FRANCISCO TONY AWARD
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