Tuesday, August 7, 2007

queenie and mona all grown up

Drag Queens on Trial
by Sky Gilbert

Praise the unabashedly queer narrative! If you want to see edgy and exciting theatre, the only place worth going is gay and lesbian theatre, which strives to push the boundaries of acceptability and is always willing to say something -- while still having a whole lot of fun. Sky Gilbert is no exception; in fact, I think he may have written the rules of queer theatre. And we are so lucky to have him writing in Canada, proudly carrying the monicker of our edgiest playwright.

The play opens with a quote from Capote, stating that "The [female] impersonator is in fact a man (truth) until he recreates himself as a woman (illusion) and, of the two, the illusion is truer." This play is all about truth and illusion and the creation of identity. Each of the drag queens in the play are charged with being, well, drag queens, and find themselves faced with the "truths" about their existence -- tales from their lives as men that replace the narratives they have woven about themselves as women. And while these narratives may be "truth" is it's most banal sense, they fail to replicate the truth of the existence of these women in their present form: and there lies the trouble of determining or insisting on drawing a line between truth and fiction. As Marlene contemplates whether or not she has been lying to the judge, she thinks about the years she spent living as a "non-person" before she could define herself as a drag queen. The "lies," if we really have to call them that, serve only to help forge an identity for someone out of the ashes of a confused and hurt child who cannot place themself in the world. She refuses to be crushed into the cringing, helpless and confused boy she was before the "lies" began, and as such she cannot let the judge define her reality.

And that is both the beauty and the central purpose of this play. The Drag Queens may be on trial, but it is all of us who are forced to consider the premium we choose to place of a factual reality that may not match up with a spiritual one. These women are all damaged inside; they talk about craving abuse, about needing to be harmed, about troubled childhoods and too much promiscuity. The question seems to be: who are we to take away the so-called "lies" that carve out survival?

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