During the first adaptation of Philippine theater of the English stage play, “M Butterfly” written by Chinese American playwright Dwight Henry Hwang in 1990, it was already prizewinning actor RS Francisco who played the lead character Song Liling.
The local interpretation was initiated by Tony Mabesa who staged the Tony award-winning play at the Dulaang UP at the time he was still very active teaching drama in the primer state university. We missed the Mabesa version of the much talked about performing arts piece on espionage but critics were raving about the sterling portrayal of RS in the modern theater classic. Writers and critics Pablo Tariman, Sonny Valencia and Frank Rivera would attest that Francisco was indeed outstanding in his essaying the role of an opera singer.
RS was a Theater Arts student at UP where he involved himself with various phases of stage productions when he was tasked the coveted role. In his remarks of gratitude written in Manilabill, the program published about the significant information on “M Butterfly,” the second Filipino production version of the play being shown at the Maybank Performing Arts Theater in Bonifacio Global City (BGC), Francisco declared: “My very first big break in theater was with Dulaang UP’s staging of ‘M Butterfly’ under the direction of Sir Tony Mabesa. I will forever be grateful to them.” We also learned from the booklet that RS hasn’t finished his academics because of financial constraints. Dulaang UP, which is being housed at the Wilfrido Ma. Guerrero Theate, the seat of student theater practice, is one of the production’s beneficiaries culled by Francisco himself.
Anyway, the actor has enriched himself in so many ways, intellectually and otherwise, obviously, inside and outside the academe.
When RS—son of veteran actor Rudy Francisco, younger brother of Famas awardee and late politician Fred Montilla—ventured into the practical work of professional multimedia, he became more equipped with the skills and tricks of the trade not excluding the ins and outs of show business including directing commercials, acting, producing which also helped him create the enterprising consciousness of a multi-level marketing scheme.
In this second Manila staging of “M Butterfly”—a play which debuted in Broadway in 1988—one of the major investors is internationally renowned theater producer and film artist in New York, Jhett Tolentino. Tolentino has produced a number of Broadway plays. His co-producer in this venture is Frontrow Entertainment, a new entertainment industry player which produced the award-winning “Bhoy Intsik” which starred RS among others and won for him the Best Actor award for the Philippine Movie Press Club (PMPC)’s 34th Star Awards for Movies.
Francisco has managed to evolve as a mature actor nearly after thirty years of owning up to “M Butterfly” where he now sinks his more insightful teeth as Song, the opera diva disguised as a woman sent in by the Communist Party of Mao Tse Tung to spy on the West invasion of Indochina during the Vietnam War where the US and its allies were wielding and reinforcing their imperial power.
Easily, a French diplomat, Rene Gallimard (being played by French actor Olivier Borten), fell in love with Liling and fancied a romance with the soprano for twenty years many sensitive information were divulged along the way. The narrative, according to Hwang was based on a news item about the real French envoy to China named Bernard Bouriscot who was enamored by a Chinese opera singer Shi Pei Pu, a male who performed as a female actor.
RS is flawless in his delineation of Song from the pretenses she has to turn in to the convictions and self-realizations she has to stick to by all means, come hell or high water. His dialectics of the Oriental woman and Gallimard of the Western man is convincing enough.
The ensemble acting is almost perfect that makes the colorful visual stage designs a mix of ideational and the emotional frills.
Kanakan Balintagos, the former Aureaus Solito (“Ang Pagdadalaga ni Maximo Oliveros”), must be given the credit as the director, his expertise here is again tried and tested in tall order.