John Glines, playwright (Men Of Manhattan) and producer of such landmark gay works as Torch Song Trilogy and As Is, hopes audiences will start discovering his new play, which opened Off-Off Broadway, May 22 and plans to continue through August.
Titled Butterflies and Tigers, the piece marks a change of pace for its author (who also directs), as it's a historical drama based on true stories from China's Cultural Revolution. Following Chairman Mao's teachings, the Red Guards ravaged the country, systematically destroying 5,000 years of art and culture.
The production, which began previews May 15 at the Orenda Theatre on Theatre Row, had a workshop staging Feb. 4-22 at the Trilogy Theatre. Glines admitted the show is "a hard sell, because it's not what people expect from me, even though it's some of the best writing I've done. It hasn't yet caught the way I'd like it to." Glines did take pride when a famous TV and film actor in Beijing saw the show recently "and was blown away by it. He'd gone through the Cultural Revolution. It amazed him that I wasn't Chinese," Glines told Playbill On-Line (June 12).
Weeks earlier, Glines told Playbill On-Line he'd gone to China and Tibet a few years ago, which first gave him the idea for the play. "Plus I read the book `Red Azalea,' which was the first time I read about the Cultural Revolution," Glines said. "It's a hell of a story. This tragedy larger than the Holocaust -- we've never heard of it, and yet it was within my lifetime. In the Gr eat Leap Forward, 40 million people died of starvation. Mao is responsible for the death of more people than anyone who ever lived. He outdid Hitler and Stalin."
Asked how he could condense such a massive historical story into a play, Glines said, "I use a handful of people to tell the story. It's like Anne Frank, you can't tell the whole thing. And with that show, you know where she'll end up at the end; with the Revolution, Americans still really don't know what will happen." Glines returned to Tibet last year, though it was not a fact-finding trip, per se. "I talked to a few people," said the playwright, "but frequently I knew more than they did. An actor in the company was born in China and grew up during the Cultural Revolution, and I yet knew a lot more than he did. How would he know? They don't tell them anything. I've also gone online with a lot of people, because some of them learned once they got to this country what happened while they were there. And that was wonderful.. Details you wouldn't read in a book."
Starring in Butterflies and Tigers at the Orenda Theatre are Gene Chen, Darcy Chin, Ann Hu, Douglas Kim, Frances Lee, Keong Sim and Edward Wong.
Later this month, author Glines will accept a special award from the Off-Off-Broadway Review (OOBR) for his work in bringing gay theatre to mainstream acceptance.
For tickets ($20) and information on Butterflies & Tigers at the Orenda Theatre, 432 West 42nd St., call (212) 330-7200.
-- By David Lefkowitz