Raw, emotional, breathtaking: RS Francisco’s ‘M. Butterfly’ is a masterpiece on the stage

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Words by Danielle Castillo

Photos taken by Caitlin Rodil and provided by M. Butterfly

In the year 1990, 18-year-old RS Francisco, under the direction of his mentor Tony Mabesa, took the titular M. Butterfly role that would turn his life around. People were astounded by his portrayal of Song Liling. The queues ran long and over a hundred performances were played in different locations all over Manila. Needless to say, RS Francisco possesses a certain quality in him that has made him Manila’s quintessential Song Liling.

Now, two years short of three decades have already passed. Francisco is once again ready to perform alongside Olivier Borten playing Rene Gallimard. This is the first time the role will be portrayed by a French-born actor in local theatres. The role of Helga, Rene’s wife, belongs to Pinky Amador, an ALIW AWARD Hall of Famer. Norman McLeod plays Manuel Toulon, the French Ambassador in China.

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Olivier Barton as Rene Gallimard and RS Francisco as Song Liling

Marc, Rene’s boisterous best friend, and Pinkerton, the cruel white man, will both be played by Lee O’Brian. Mayen Estañero joins the cast as well as she plays the roles of Comrade Chin, Suzuki, and Shu Fang. Renee, a sexually liberated Danish woman, will be portrayed by Maya Encila in the play. Rica Nepomuceno will be in the play as well as the Opera Singer. Lastly, the kurogos would be Pheith Ina Ballug, Ullyses Basa, Aira Jay Igarta, Kay Megan Ierulf, and John Paul Ortenero.

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Maya Encila as Renee and Olivier Borten as Rene Gallimard

M. Butterfly is directed by internationally acclaimed Kanakan-Balintagos. The play is produced by Jhett Tolentino, award-winning Broadway producer, and Frontrow Entertainment.

The story of M. Butterfly revolves around the 20-year affair of Rene Gallimard, a French diplomat, and Song Liling, a Chinese opera singer. Later on, it is revealed that Song is actually a homosexual male playing the part of a woman. Even worse? He’s a spy for the Communist Party of China.

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Olivier Borten as Rene Gallimard and RS Francisco as Song Liling

The play starts off quite slowly, with Rene first establishing that he was a man of great importance to France and that he was once loved by the “perfect woman.” His narrative is accompanied by reenactments of his most important memories. This includes his first time encountering an explicit magazine, his political marriage to Helga, and his sexually charged conversations with Marc.

The story picks up its pace when Song Liling is first introduced to Rene through the former’s performance of Madame Butterfly.

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RS Francisco as Song Liling in the Peking Opera

Act 1 establishes Rene’s story as a lonely man who is finally given the chance to create his own perfect romance. The delivery of the lines was crisp and emotional with hints of bitterness as he recounts moments with his sweet love–his butterfly. Olivier manifests Rene’s overeager and amateur deception perfectly.

Francisco as Song Liling, on the other hand, gives the audience a wonderful show of submission–graceful movements, honeyed voices, and beautiful weeping. However, the real delight of it all (and a testament to Francisco’s incredible acting skills) is the undertone of mastered manipulation that silently seeps through Liling’s actions all throughout the play.

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Song Liling as portrayed by RS Francisco

The flow of the play hastens up in Act 2, where the two lead characters finally live together in China. However, their life would not be a truly peaceful one there. Comrade Chin is a cruel woman, yet at times, one would consider her as the comic aspect of the play with her exaggerated words and actions. Pinky Amador plays a brilliant Helga, from the thick French accent to the body language that exudes a longing for Rene.

The play gracefully dons it layers–the discontentment of Gallimard, the careful deceit of Song Liling, the start of the communist revolution, the nation’s hatred of homosexuality, and the perspective of the feminine oriental.

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Olivier Borten as Rene Gallimard and Pinky Amador as Helga

The chill-inducing music and sound effects (kudos to Joed Balsamo and Jethro Joaquin), along with the lighting design (headed by John Batalla) that borrowed inspiration from Japanese rising sun propelled the play one suspenseful scene after another. The transformation of Song Liling from Rene’s dainty butterfly to the man he reveals himself to be is made more evident with Eric Pineda’s talent in costume. Ohm David also deserves credit for the wonderful set design for it truly did set the mood for the play, especially at the play’s ending.

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Closing credits of M. Butterfly

Act 3 is the most heartbreaking and most intense. RS Francisco and Olivier Borten will once again make the hairs behind your neck stand with trepidation as they barrel into the play’s finishing moments. This play will leave you standing and clapping your hands in awe. Are we in love with the person or are we in love with the idea of falling in love with that person?

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Olivier Borten as Rene Gallimard and RS Francisco as Song Liling

Also read: Universidad de Manila unveils the theater arts’ pride!

I recommend that you see it yourself to truly understand what I mean when I say that it’s a masterpiece on the stage.

What are you waiting for? M. Butterfly is waiting for you to be a part of this wonderful experience. The play runs from September 13 to 30, 2018 at the Maybanks Performing Arts Center in Bonifacio Global City.

Get your tickets now from Ticketworld!