In an enticingly intimate space we are presented with an equally intimate autobiographical production. Boy In A Dress at Oval House Theatre tells the paradoxically bleak yet glamorous lifestory of La JohnJoseph; brimming with poetic wit, charm and beauty there can be no doubt about the writing talent of the aforementioned performer.
The scene changes in this production were subtle and minimalist, yet stunning. With the flick of a UV light we were transported to a graffiti-filled public toilet, a plane to New York and to a night club. The main focal point of this dystopian set, designed by Cleo Pettitt, was a large wardrobe which was used for rapid costume changes, then enabling characters to literally “come out of the closet”.
La JohnJoseph himself was deeply moving, presenting his story in an astonishingly objective fashion; permitting us to judge his actions while not being didactic in any sense. Considering himself a ‘third gender’ La JohnJoseph employs the analogy of a spoon beautifully. Combining both the ‘masculinity’ associated with a knife with the supposed ‘femininity’ of a fork, we are shown that a person can exists between the two genders. This theme is continually reinforced by both the series of spoons that litter the stage and La JohnJoseph’s frequent changing between traditionally male and female clothing. Wonderfully supported by Anna Lewenhaupt, the two performers slowly presented us with the entirety of a person’s life with all of its highs, lows and black humour. One particularly notable scene showed us all of La JohnJoseph’s Mother’s previous husbands. What should have been a deeply disturbing recount of all their individual fallacies and shortcomings had the audience in stitches.
The entire piece was accompanied by Jordan Hunt on the piano, providing magical melodies. However, this was one of the production’s few weaknesses. While Hunt and La JohnJoseph played and sang, respectively, very well, these songs were impersonal, regurgitated and often ill-fitting. This was ironic given La JohnJoseph’s main plea was for us not to see him as a drag queen, yet here he was presenting us with a classic ‘drag act’. The beautifully personal nature of the piece was slightly offset by this; his own words were being replaced with someone else’s. Also, the production did occasionally slip into post-modernist gimmicks, with purposely mis-synced video recordings and interpretive movement, but these were infrequent and seemed slightly out of place, their message unsubtly reinforcing gender identity, or lack thereof.
Overall this was an immensely moving glimpse into another human’s life. Soliloquies seamlessly merged into conversation and conversation into song. With only three performers on stage, a whole host of characters from La JohnJoseph’s life were fantastically reproduced. Clearly, there was some very precise and excellent directing from Sarah Chew. The close proximity of La JohnJoseph to the audience gave a visceral quality to all of the action on stage, leaving us to question our own perspective on what it is to be labelled by society.
A Boy in a Dress is playing at Ovalhouse Theatre until 3 March. For more information and tickets, see the Ovalhouse Theatre website.