What do you see looking back at you when you look into the mirror? Does it reflect what you feel? Or does it show you who you want to be, or think you should be?
Mark Beau de Silva has been feeling pretty good of late, turning up for rehearsals in a different dress each day and finding his stride with walking in heels. “It has been very cathartic for me, being about to do in these two months what I have always wanted to do my entire life… to be free to wear whatever I want to wear, without being told that it is wrong,” he says.
Men In Heels, his newest play slated to open at the Kuala Lumpur Performing Arts Centre on Feb 24, is about busting stereotypes – and so much more. The premise sounds simple: It is the story of three drag queens, their loves and their lives. It is outrageous costumes, larger-than-life personas, makeup and more makeup.
Those familiar with de Silva’s work will know to expect something more, something that’s not afraid to dig deeper, as he deftly layers it with wry observations of life and a humorous touch. Men In Heels might be, in De Silva’s words, “crazy, crazy, crazy” on the surface, but beneath the glamour and glitz lies a poignant message.
“There are people who might seem strong, fabulous and fierce, but what about the vulnerability behind it all?,” says de Silva. “I did not intend for the play to veer in this direction, but it just happened. I guess it is easy for me to write as an outcast because when you grow up feeling like you do not fit in anywhere, it makes it a bit more difficult to feel like you belong.”
He takes on one of the characters in his show, with Zhafir Muzani and Ivan Chan tackling the other two with gusto. The play is presented by The Actors Studio Seni Teater Rakyat, with choreography by Fairuz Fee Tauhid. Theatre veteran Faridah Merican is executive producer.
Joe Hasham, the artistic director, concurs that the play finds its voice from a place of truth in its celebration of diversity and differences. “What makes Mark’s writing so real is that he draws on real experiences. It comes from an honest place, it has a lot of truth in it,” says Hasham.
“The play deals with a subject matter that is personal to many people, particularly those who find themselves in that very situation, because that is their life. We are conscious about not treating that lightly. With humour, yes, but never to make a mockery out of it.”
In the production, audiences will be able to share in the characters’ hopes and dreams, quite literally, because there will be sequences projected overhead. Larger-than-life, of course, just like the drag personas you will come to know.
“As performers, we want the portrayal to be truthful and we hope that the audience will take something from it, too,” says de Silva. “You do not need to be in these characters’ shoes to relate; anyone can relate with things like friendship and family, your fears and aspirations, and how you grapple with the black sheep in the picture.”
He shares that he has never poured as much work into being an actor in any play as he has with this one, and points out that it’s a whole lot of fun. “The characters come to care for each other a lot, but there is a lot of rivalry and everyone wants to be in the spotlight during a performance,” he says with a laugh.
Expect a frenetic play, in parts at least. How can there not be when three talented actors are hamming it up with iconic drag performances and fabulous costumes?
“The poignant scenes really get to me, but for most of the play I have this ridiculous smile on my face when I watch the guys rehearse,” says Hasham. “I look at them and I think, this is just wonderful. The audience will shriek and howl with laughter, that’s for sure.”
So, yes, Men In Heels promises lots of laughs but it’s also one with a lot of heart. Perhaps deep down we are more alike than we’d like to think. It might be fun and games when we’re strutting off to the world, but it’s when the party ends that we have to look in that mirror and live with what or who we are.