Sunday, March 8, 2009

review - Madame Butterfly

Photo of Kaz Mata Mura as Cho Cho San by Michael Helms

One Acts
Madame Butterfly/ Fool on a Roof

Secret Rose Theatre
directed by Mike Rademaekers
through March 22

Without the music, Puccini's opera Madama Butterfly would leave me cold. Perhaps it is a cultural misunderstanding on my part of the interpretation of the story: not so much how a person could be intensely hurt by the absence of love, but why one would commit suicide. The play Madame Butterfly upon which the opera is based, written by David Belasco, however, makes it quite clear that one must ... die with honor when one can no longer live with honor.
Americans seem to have lost count of what honor really means; to the Japanese, it is everything.
The Secret Rose began operation in 1999 with this one-act play and are currently remounting it as a 10th anniversary commemoration.

This is a straightforward representation with no frills or sentimentality. It is realistic, but without the overly dramatic suffering one associates with this work. The pacing is smooth and continuous, with simple and handsome staging by Mike Rademaekers and a beautifully realized performance by Kaz Mata Mura as Cho Cho San. Mata Mura is to be lauded for her bold perspective: from the beginning she underplays, but is always up and full of optimism, and even at the end, there is a ray of hope, as she fiercely views the sunlight after a long and unfulfilling vigil. Others in the ensemble worthy of note are Kiko Kiko as the loyal servant Suzuki, Shannon Altland as the sympathetic Kate, Max Andes as Pinkerton, Robert Sampson who makes Mr. Sharpless as gentlemanly as possible, and Austin Pender as the lovely child Trouble.

The first one act Fool on a Roof by Kan Kikuchi, often used as comic relief and sometimes played in a commedia dell'arte style, is in contrast to Butterfly: an over-the-top, farcical look at how the Japanese suffer to save face. They are so afraid that a certain kind of behavior may disgrace the family name that they go to absurd extremes to try to preserve the status quo. They act more foolish than the fool on the roof. But, alas, as in life itself, they cannot change, nor should they, a young boy's optimism and dreams. If he finds joy on a rooftop longing for a castle on the cloud, then so be it. In this lies the connection of the two plays: an awkward and relentless sense of hope. Director Rademaekers makes a wise choice in avoiding the commedia dell'arte masks and sticking to the silly, clownish slapstick to elicit laughs. It works well. Off-the-wall hilarious are Warren G. Hall, Kaye Chen, Ron Velasco, Doan Nyugen, Andres Ramacho and Jesse Wang, who also do a commendable job of changing the set pieces for Butterfly at intermission.

A terrific evening of theatre, economically yet stylishly produced.
4 out of 5 stars


Post a Comment

Subscribe to Post Comments [Atom]

<< Home