Meet the Rogue

Live theater. Unsolicited commentary.
From Detroit to Lansing.

Carolyn Hayes is the Rogue Critic, est. late 2009.

In 2011, the Rogue attended 155 plays, readings, and festivals (about 3 per week) and penned 115 reviews (about 2.2 per week).

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Theaters and Companies

The Abreact (Detroit)
website | reviews | 2011 SIR

The AKT Theatre Project (Wyandotte)
website | reviews

Blackbird Theatre (Ann Arbor)
website | reviews | 2010 SIR

Detroit Repertory Theatre (Detroit)
website | reviews

The Encore Musical Theatre Co. (Dexter)
website | reviews

Go Comedy! (Ferndale)
website | reviews

Hilberry Theatre (Detroit)
website | reviews | 2010 SIR

Jewish Ensemble Theatre (West Bloomfield)
website | reviews

Magenta Giraffe Theatre Co. (Detroit)
website | reviews | 2010 SIR

Matrix Theatre (Detroit)
website | reviews | 2010 SIR

Meadow Brook Theatre (Rochester)
website | reviews

Performance Network Theatre (Ann Arbor)
website | reviews

Planet Ant Theatre (Hamtramck)
website | reviews

Plowshares Theatre (Detroit)
website | reviews

Purple Rose Theatre Co. (Chelsea)
website | reviews

The Ringwald Theatre (Ferndale)
website | reviews

Tipping Point Theatre (Northville)
website | reviews | 2010 SIR

Threefold Productions (Ypsilanti)
website | reviews

Two Muses Theatre (West Bloomfield Township)
website | reviews

Williamston Theatre (Williamston)
website | reviews







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M. Butterfly

Playwright David Henry Hwang’s M. Butterfly takes dual inspiration from a real-life love affair of mistaken identity and from Puccini’s classic Madama Butterfly to piece together a haunting and tragic romance, the truth of which can never be extricated from the weakness of wistful recollection. As directed by Arthur Beer, the Jewish Ensemble Theatre production is romantic indeed, a heady epic that overindulges a bit in its own stately mystique and polished grace.

The introductory scene establishes that protagonist Rene Gallimard (Glen Allen Pruett) is in a French prison, a laughingstock, and of dubious mental faculties. He fell in love with a devoted, feminine beauty that was not as she seemed, and the revelation and attendant shame has cast doubt on his judgment and sanity. Yet he wants nothing more than to retreat back into that fiction, and is eager to show the viewer why. His tale luxuriates in fond reminiscence of time-tested love with opera singer Song Liling (Tae Hoon Yoo), a Chinese national he met while serving as a diplomat in that country in the 1960s. Sarah Tanner’s scenic design is the China of Rene’s mind, a convertible triptych whose moving parts make abrupt scenic transitions as easygoing as an underhand lob (with seamless assistance by AeJay Mitchell and Chin Yang, whose understated presence is in keeping with the traditional Japanese stagehand role of Kurogo). Lights by Jon Weaver play with the negative space of considerable darkness, upon which isolated illuminations and primary-colored backgrounds provide dazzling contrast and variation. Rapid-shifting focal points are always kept clear, highlighted by a visually striking range of costumes and properties (by Mary Copenhagen and Chelsea Burke, respectively) that neatly bisect West and East. Matt Lira layers a phenomenal sound scheme under and throughout the action, cinematically underscoring scenes with ambient fullness and the operatic grandeur of swelling instrumentals. China is Rene’s exotic paradise, in which his influence as a white European man is considerable, power that plays forcefully into his wooing and eventual possession of Song. Yet the woman he believes to be an awed native willing to become his own personal Butterfly — just like his favorite tragic opera — is in fact a man, a fact of which Rene remains assiduously ignorant across the years and continents of their partnership.

Other snippets and fleeting characters let fall delicately couched slivers of information in a procession of supporting performances that inform Rene’s decision making. His lover’s demurring coyness comes into focus against his plainspoken wife, Helga (Linda Rabin Hammell), whose rote disdain for foreign cultures feels excruciatingly stifling. Flashbacks to envied childhood friend Mark (Andrew Huff) emphasize Rene’s inexperience with power, confidence, and attractiveness; when he frets about philandering with a Chinese subject, Mark’s imagined voice pushes him to abuse his station, which yields further personal and professional successes. As the embodiment of comparative Western fantasies and flings, Cara AnnMarie purrs and bubbles in roles possessed of carefree frivolity that fizzle next to Song’s unfailing company and doting, single-minded attention. Significantly, other characters tell another, politically motivated side of the story: the barking authority of Comrade Chin (Karen Minard) provides the key to Song’s ultimate agenda, and Phil Powers and Yoo share a cruelly discordant scene in which the former presides over Rene’s trial.

But the heart of the show is its central relationship, and underneath the web of ulterior political motives, imperialist power trips, exploited gender roles, and equivocal burlesque, Pruett and Yoo nurture an easy, gentle affection, which effectively communicates the enticement of manufacturing and adhering to a selective truth. Crucially, Rene’s interpretation appears to be the preferred reality of this production as a whole, with Beer’s direction flowing the story fluidly around and through Pruett’s confessional perspective. Yet the deft orchestration of this arrangement threatens to undermine the unconventional text in one crucial way: in jarring moments when another character’s testimonial takes point, Rene protests at the theft of his story, except the narrative never feels like it was his to lose. Absorbing questions of story structure and reliable narrators are diminished in this telling, giving the production the buoyed feeling of recreating a beautiful zig-zagging dream and clashing too hurriedly with the harsh light and frank mature content of the revelatory climactic scenes.

Running approximately two hours and forty minutes (which are generously interposed by a fifteen-minute intermission as well as a later five-minute pause), M. Butterfly takes all the time it needs to create a lovely fantasy and make it feel not only real, but vital. The current production relishes the illusion and builds its world up around it, unfortunately to the point where the nagging intrusions of other perspectives may not get their due. Regardless, the play’s thorny, intriguing content and stunning reversals wait to engross viewers prepared to be lulled by invention and then ejected into bitter reality.

M. Butterfly is no longer playing.
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