REVIEW: GENTLEMEN’S CLUB AKA TAPE

The Gentleman’s Club, presented by The Patchwork’s Ensemble, is a lively drag act written by Vikram Phukan. The performance showcases the Art of drag, the highlight being that it celebrates drag kings and not drag queens. Drag kings are women who dress and perform as men, a phenomenon that is rare if not non-existent in India.

 PhotocreditJazeela Basheer6

Roxanne, played by Puja Sarup, is a veteran Drag King who performs as Shamsher, modeled on Shammi Kapoor, every night. Shamsher is carefully dressed as Shammi, complete with a gold jacket and poofy hair. Shamsher, it seems, has been instrumental in introducing a lot of women to the world of drag, one of them being a colleague, Alex, a.k.a J.T, played by Sheena Khalid. J.T, in contrast to Shamsher, plays to the western perception of ‘sexy’ (and does, indeed, become the part). Sheena plays a double as a drag queen (in a flashback scene) who Roxanne looked up to. Ratnabali Chatterjee’s portrayal of a drag king is also significant in the play. She is a Bengali intellectual whose method of revolution is drag. Her performance of the song “ding-a-ling” was key in involving the audience with the theme of the play.

 PhotocreditJazeela Basheer4

The play centre’s around the essence of drag. The play progresses with Alex and Roxanne being interviewed by a young journalist between their shows. In one of the most vitals scenes of the play, we see Shamsher unwrapping his persona down to the very roots: the binder.

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The binder is a kind of tape used to flatten breasts. For a drag king it is but essential to use a binder and know how to wear it right. We, as the audience, are taken through a detailed process of how the binder works. More than the act on stage, it is the message that gets conveyed to us, the message about identity.

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If there is one thing this drama is about, it is identity. Women choosing to be drag kings and embracing their inner Shammi, or J.T. Throughout the course of the drama, we see several instances of how they always felt a certain affinity for their other self, their drag self. Roxanne, for instance, recounts how out of place she felt in a dress as a child. At the end, even the journalist who initially interviewed them is welcomed into the world of drag as her identity begins to change.

Although the drama conveys some heavy meanings to us, at no point does it become very serious. It remains upbeat and entertaining throughout and that, personally, is what I feel is really commendable about it.

 – Tania Mitra

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