Chicago Theater Report: Mlima’s Tale and Madama Butterfly

Below is a lightly edited transcript of Playtime’s Chicago Theater report for February 9th, 2020. Audio archives of the show will be added to this post as they become available:

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MLIMA’S TALE BY GRIFFIN THEATRE COMPANY

PHOTO CREDIT: The cast of Griffin Theatre’s Midwest premiere of Mlima’s Tale includes (top, l to r) Ben Chang, David Goodloe, Sarah Lo and Lewon Johns (bottom, l to r) Colin McShane, Chris Pow and Michael Turrentine.

Griffin Theatre Company is pleased to launch its 32nd season with the Midwest premiere of Lynn Nottage’s drama MLIMA’S TALE directed by Jerrell L. Henderson, playing February 15 – March 21 on Raven Theatre’s Schwartz Stage

The press release describes MLIMA’S TALE as the story of a magnificent elephant trapped in the international ivory market. 

Previews begin on Saturday, February 15th with the regular run starting on Thursday the 27th with a scheduled close date of March 21st. Tickets go on sale Monday, January 20 at www.griffintheatre.com or by calling (773) 338-2177.

MADAMA BUTTERFLY AT THE LYRIC OPERA

© Todd Rosenberg 2020

Thursday night, I had the opportunity to attend the opening night of Madama Butterfly at The Lyric Opera. Puccini’s tale of love and deception has proven to be polarizing over the years, with many now believing that the opera simply should not be performed at all.

I personally find myself torn: While the first part of the opera is a searing indictment of American entitlement and abuse of a naive teenager, the second half muddles the waters further, creating an agonizing story of multiple betrayals of a young woman who desperately wants to believe in the goodness of her own husband.

Many have argued that Madama Butterfly is replete with misogyny and orientalism. I cannot deny this. However, as I said to a friend after the show: “As far as unredeemable stories go, the Lyric has done an excellent job of telling it!” Ana María Martínez is a superb Cio-Cio San and her presence on stage is nothing less than electrifying. This performance is rivaled, however, by that of Deborah Nansteel as her faithful maid, Suzuki.

The relationship between Butterfly and Suzuki is itself a difficult one, with Butterfly routinely threatening to beat Suzuki for occasionally pointing out the gravity of Butterfly’s predicament. Nonetheless, Nansteel continues to portray her character as a woman of noble character, devoted even when she might have been otherwise. In addition, Nansteel’s voice is utterly superb. I can’t help but compare this production to an earlier show in this season at the Lyric, Luisa Miller, which also involved a young woman who was continually being manipulated and abused by the people, particularly the men, around her.

While that story was incredibly grim I’m looking at Madama Butterfly and thinking of how the suffering of women is fetishized by the writers of these operas. . . and yet we, the audience, are entertained by it. It remains a predicament for me still. 

I strongly recommend this production, which is a triumph, even if its story is entirely disturbing. The sets and costuming are a marvel and the orchestra is first-rate. You can purchase tickets at www.lyricopera.org or at a discount on www.hottix.org.

That’s it for this week. Tune in to Playtime every Sunday here on WCGO. Take care.