A STANDING ovation greeted the end of the play, Men in Heels, with some members of the audience wiping tears away as they applauded at the re-worked Pentas 2 stage of the Kuala Lumpur Performing Arts Centre in Sentul.
The back-stories behind three drag queens, more so in a political climate against LGBTs whipped along by religious fervour, proved both ludicrous and sad.
“There are no sissies in Malaysia,” declares one character called Peter, played by Mark Beau De Silva, also the playwright.
Yeah, right, might have well been the silent response of everyone present. But everyone who is alive knows someone with gender traits that don’t meet strict gender norms.
Society generally accepts LGBTs, but the personal struggles of the three characters as depicted on stage brought home the heartbreaks endured in wanting to be true to themselves.
De Silva, Ivan Chan as Bryan and Zhafir Muzani as Ilya, or Labia binti Labu as he proclaimed, played three “drag queens” reminiscing about their formative instances and years.
They were believable, and due credit must go the script with tales of schoolyard bullying, sexual violence, and gender abuse.
It could have gone the way of a parody, what with priests who like boys and buaya policemen, but it didn’t, and Chan, De Silva and Zhafir showed good control over emotions as they portrayed these “drag queens” in their life struggles.
A backdrop screen played videoclips of three actors in full drag ensemble, performing to samplings of well-known English songs and one Siput Sarawak number.
It was at time unsettling to have to watch both the videoclip and the action on stage, which was of the trio performing the same song, but in a stripped-down setting.
A metaphor perhaps to let us see what was behind the glamour.
But it lent gravitas to the lyrics of the song, be it Cher’s “Believe” (“Do you believe in life after love…”) or Kylie Minogue’s ” I Should be So Lucky” , “At Seventeen” by Janis Ian or Bonnie Tyler’s Holding Out for a Hero, among others.
Imagine watching a drag queen in her underwear, lip synching to:
“Who called to say “come dance with me”
And murmured vague obscenities
It isn’t all it seems at seventeen
A brown eyed girl in hand me downs…”
Oh lord, it was poignant.
At its heart, Men In Heels was the search for acceptance and love that is part of an Everyman’s wish.
There are no sissies in Malaysia, but aren’;t we all when we don’t fight for what is right and the truth?
Men in Heels, presented by The Actors Studio Seni Teater Rakyat and directed by Joe Hasham, runs tomorrow till Sunday, and at Stage 2 PenangPac, Jalan Seri Tanjung Pinang, Penang at 8.30pm on March 16-17.
Tickets are RM55 and RM45 (concession). Hotline: 03-4047 9000 (KLPac)/04-889 1722 (Penangpac)/ 03-7880 7999 (Ticketpro). For details, visit klpac.org, penangpac.org, or ticketpro.com.my.