M. Butterfly, Apple Tree Theatre. For David Henry Hwang's play to work, the character of Song Liling has to be convincing. If the male actor portraying this female Chinese opera singer is unbelievable, all the script's suspense and insight into gender roles and colonial politics will be lost. Fortunately E.Y. Shin is very persuasive as the "delicate Oriental woman" who seduces a French diplomat. His mincing steps, giggles, and soft voice fall away to reveal a swaggering man bursting with pride at his successful deception.
Dev Kennedy plays the diplomat Gallimard, whose ego is bolstered by the "butterfly" pining for him and submitting to his will. Kennedy is an awkwardly charming, convincing civil servant, but he shows little emotion during Gallimard's jail-cell recollections of finding love, moving from memory to memory without seeming to reexperience them and overplaying some lines as if underlining their portent.
Only Patrick Dollymore as Gallimard's boisterous friend Marc stands out among the rest of the cast. Yet the minor weaknesses of Apple Tree Theatre's production are overcome by the strength of Hwang's fascinating play. Director Peter Amster provides a visually interesting (but occasionally awkward) staging with the help of scenic designer Tim Morrison and costume designer Jack Kirkby.