IN A dressing room, an ageing drag queen reveals his life and loves, victories and defeats. This is the hit play Language Unbecoming A Lady.
The play explores themes of identity and love found and lost, and uses the music of Judy Garland, Barbra Streisand, Billie Holiday and more, to reveal the story of one gay man’s life.
Language Unbecoming A Lady, written and performed by Myles Breen, offers a funny and touching portrait of gay life in Ireland over the last 40 years via the experiences of its chief protagonist, Robert, and his drag queen alter-ego, The Divine Diana.
“It’s one gay man’s story from the late seventies up to the present day and it’s partly autobiographical,” explains Breen, who will be familiar to Galway audiences from his appearances here down the years with Limerick’s Island Theatre Company.
“I grew up in Limerick in the 1970s and 1980s so elements of the story were taken from my own experiences, but parts of the story were also taken from the experiences of my friends and stuff like that. While I’ve done drag I’m not a full on drag queen per se, so some of the stories would have come from drag queens I know as well.”
Breen discusses the play’s dual protagonists.
“The Divine Diana turns up very early in the play and is very present in it thereafter,” he says. “This persona or character sprung from wherever in my brain and she started taking over a little bit. She has a very interesting take on life and love and how you get through life and audiences seem to enjoy it.
“Alongside that there is the story of Robert the man who created her. It starts off with him realising he’s gay as an adolescent and he has a tough time as a teenager. Then he moves to Dublin in the early 1980s and gets involved in the gay scene there which liberates him. He then creates a family for himself which wasn’t the one he was born into but a family of friends and other gay men.
“It covers the whole experience of gay life such as coming out and accepting who you are,” Breen continues. “It also goes on to ask what happens you after you come out, how do you live your life as a gay man out in the world, working, falling in love. There are a lot of plays about gay life that are about the coming out experience but not many of them go on to explore what happens after that.”
Music is a major component in the show.
“Divine Diana is old-school glamour drag, and her role models would be Judy Garland, Barbara Streisand, and Marlene Dietrich, and we use a lot of music from those stars throughout the show,” Breen discloses.
“The music comments on different events in his life. We’ve all had that experience where a song heard on the radio can bring you back to when you were a teenager or first had your heart broken, and that song becomes a soundtrack to that experience. So a lot of the songs in the show are like comments on what happens in Robert’s life.”
The show has already proved a big hit, and not just with gay audiences.
“We did it first in Limerick Pride in 2009 and I was overwhelmed by the response from both gay and straight audiences,” says Breen. “I hope it is a human story that everyone can relate to.
“It’s about anyone’s experiences of how you grow up, find love, how do you deal with having your heart broken. During the play Robert’s mother dies so it explores how you deal with the loss of a parent. Also, near the end of the play he has to go home to take care of his father and for our generation - I’m 46, though Robert is 50 - our parents’ mortality is a big issue as well.”
Language Unbecoming A Lady plays the Town Hall Studio on Friday November 19 and Saturday 20 at 8.30pm. Tickets are available from the Town Hall on 091 - 569777.