Sunday 12 October 2008

Daddy, why is that man wearing a dress?

It was not a pretty sight.

No, actually, at first I thought the picture of TheatreWorks’ Ong Keng Sen wearing heavy make-up, pearls, a black dress and a blue wig in The Straits Times recently was quite pretty.

Until I realised it was Ong Keng Sen - a man. And suddenly I had to explain to my 11-year-old son why it’s not all right for him to try on his sister’s clothes – at least not without his sister’s signed consent.

Ong was promoting his new play, Vivien And The Shadows, where he will be acting as a guy who “imagines himself” to be Vivien Leigh.

I told my son: “That man is acting as a woman in a play. That is the reason – and only reason – he is dressed like a woman.”

Then my son asked: Why didn’t they just get a woman to act as a woman?

“Because,” I said, “the character is not really a woman, but a man who is acting as a woman.”

“But why is the man acting as a woman?” he asked.

This was going nowhere.

So I went into this spiel about how in Shakespeare’s day, women weren’t allowed to act in theatre, so men had to play all the women’s parts as well.

Then it occurred to me it must have been damn confusing back then for audiences watching The Merchant Of Venice when the character of Portia, a woman who pretended to be a man, had to be played by a man pretending to be a woman who pretended to be a man. It was like a reverse Victor/Victoria without the big musical numbers.

My son’s response: "What is a Shakespeare?"

I sighed and decided it was time to just make something up.

I said the Government wanted Singapore women to have more babies, but all these women were too busy working. So the Government was phasing out all these women’s jobs so that they could stay home and have more babies. One of these women’s jobs was acting as women in plays.

My son stared at me blankly. Then he asked, “Is he like Kumar?”

I said yes.

He said, “Oh” and returned to bugging me to get him a PSP for Christmas.

A few days later on Tuesday, my 9-year-old daughter saw a picture of Ivan Heng in drag in the newspaper and wanted to lend her brother her clothes.

- Published in The New Paper, 12 Oct 2008