Language Unbecoming A Lady – a play that shows how far we’ve come

John Breen in Language Unbecoming A Lady.

John Breen in Language Unbecoming A Lady.

LIMERICK'S BOTTOM Dog Theatre Company comes to the Town Hall Theatre Thursday January 21 at 8pm, with Myles Breen’s award-winning one-man play, Language Unbecoming A Lady.

First staged to great acclaim in 2009, the play recently featured in New York's '1st Irish' Theatre Festival, where Breen won the Best Actor award. “That was my first ever time in New York,” Breen tells me. “It was great to go over there with a show that was very dear to me. I was nervous about it because I hoped it was a universal story, though it has a very Irish flavour to it but the American audiences’ response was overwhelming.”

Through the character of an ageing drag queen, and drawing on the music of Judy Garland and Barbara Streisand, Language Unbecoming A Lady offers a touching and funny story of growing up gay in Ireland from the late-seventies to the present day.

“It’s the story of one gay man’s life,” Breen says. “It reflects the changes in Irish society from growing up in a world where, as a gay, you felt very much an outsider and disenfranchised, to where we are now where you do feel equal. It’s a play that shows where we’ve been and how far we’ve come.”

Breen is struck by just how much things have changed in the few years since the play was first performed - thanks largely to the landmark Marriage Referendum. “There was one line in the original version, where I said ‘If you told me all those years ago we’d be arguing about this I’d have laughed in your face’ and then of course when I brought the play to New York I changed it, because even in that space of time the landscape had completely changed.

"So I changed it to ‘If you had told me all those years ago that Ireland would be the first country to legalise same sex marriage by popular vote I’d have laughed in your face’. That got a huge reaction in New York because marriage equality is a big issue over there at the moment, some states say yes, some say no.”

Breen is a long-established actor but Language Unbecoming A Lady is his first real foray into writing.

“I’d written some things for youth theatres, and things like that, but this was the most personal thing I’d done and it had been bubbling in my head for a while,” he says. “Some of it is my story some of it is taken from other people’s experiences. Then also, there is that thing that when you are writing a voice might come into your head.

"The play’s main character is Robert and his drag queen persona, or alter-ego, The Divine Diana, and when I started off writing her, her voice became so strong. As an actor myself I’m fascinated by the real person underneath the costume. I’m not a drag queen myself, although I’ve done drag and panto dames but I know drag queens, and their relationship with their alter egos always fascinated me.

"The play explores the relationship between Robert and Diana. It’s like Clark Kent and Superman, how they help each other and sometimes don’t help each other. It explores the role of fantasy in our lives, Robert has this fantasy person that stands by like his guardian angel, a stronger better version of himself and he finds her by putting on a dress and high heels.”

Breen stresses that the play resonates beyond gay audiences; “It’s not just for gay people but straight people also, because sometimes you feel you don’t belong, you’re a stranger in your own town or your own family. The play reflects how all of us, straight/gay whatever, go through this period of growing up and it explores the idea of finding yourself, and who you are, and being comfortable with that, and being comfortable with other people knowing who you are.”

Tickets are €18/15 from the Town Hall on 091 - 569777 or www.tht.ie

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