“Song’s for a New World” The Revision of Gender and Restructuring of Narrative in M. Butterfly (1988, 1993, and 2017)

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Melissa Lin Sturges

Abstract

The 2017 revised edition and Broadway adaptation of David Henry Hwang’s 1988 play, M. Butterfly homes in on a contemporary understanding of gender fluidity and intersectional identities. Whereas the original production valued the shock and reveal narrative of the Song/Gallimard romance, this updated version offers a more inclusive and open-ended reading of gender and does not rely so heavily on the tropes of Madame Butterfly and the amalgamation of gender and ethnicity that was prevalent in the original text as well as the 1993 film adaptation. An outstanding new play in the time it was written, Hwang received many accolades, however, even he understood the need to update and revise. Julie Taymor’s vision for this revival was not met altogether positively, as to be expected, but I propose that this was a necessary attempt at approaching gender on stage in an updated light. This paper will examine the evolution of Hwang’s text in correspondence with developing theories on gender studies. Moreover, it will question the theatrical value of the two versions of this play in the time each was written, with special attention paid to spectacle and dramatic tension and ask whether the sake of drama outweighs the need to foresee changes in the academic and theoretical realm surrounding gender studies. Whether it was a good or even a positive revision is worth pursuing, but the very fact that this revised edition appeared on Broadway when it did demonstrates a movement in gender studies and its response in the theatrical world. 

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Theatre