When we meet the diplomat Rene Gallimard at the end of those 20 years, his folly has been exposed. He is now “a celebrity. You see, I make people laugh,” he says. He offers this observation from his jail cell.
The rest of this fast-paced and frequently witty drama addresses that key question—How could this be?—as well as others: How did Gallimard wind up in prison? Why did the man he knew as the bewitching Song Liling encourage this relationship, as Gallimard rose through the diplomatic ranks while posted in China? And why did Song Liling resume the relationship in Paris after his own world came crashing down?
With references to Puccini’s opera Madame Butterfly, this play explores issues of imperialism, gender and race, in a swirl of color and music. It dramatizes the effects of cultural myths and stereotypes on personal emotions, and the impact of those emotions on politics and even war.