jueves, 10 de febrero de 2011

The best of times is now (and a moral) - On La Cage aux Folles

The synopsis of La Cage aux Folles is not likely to drag the crowds to Longacre Theatre: Laurent invites his fiancée and her ultraconservative parents for diner to his family house. The problem is that Laurent's family is formed by his gay father and the boyfriend of the latter, owner and main artist respectively of a club at Saint Trophez, something Laurent would rather conceal. But bear with me, because this play is worth watching. Let me give you three reasons.

In the first place: Douglas Hodge, who plays the role of Albin, the transvestite lover of Laurent's father. Hodge performs in the best tradition of male actors posing as women. This includes, in my personal and surely arbitrary account, Dustin Hoffmann in Tootsie, Robbie Williams in Ms. Doubtfire, and of course and above all, Jack Lemmon in Some Like it Hot. It is very easy to be excessive in these kind of roles, but Hodge manages to be exactly what Albin is: an effeminate man in all his female glory, not a hystrionic likely to make the audience raise an eyebrow. Moreover, Hodge mesmerizes with his singing abilities, delivering a great range of tones without losing the power of his voice. He's so great that he dwarfs former Frasier actor Kelsey Grammer (Laurent's father), who didn't seem to keep his tone more than once, in spite of his correct acting.

The second reason are the Cagettes, the dancers in the transvestite show at La Cage aux Folles. Not only do they have incredible dancing abilities in a variety of styles, from Can-can to something-close-to-ballet, including a mix between dancing and acrobatics (check "the birds' dance"). Also, their rhytmic skills are combined with what I would dare to call dancing humor. The Cagettes constantly play with the audience, they challenge and joke with them with a pelvis movement or a twisted tongue, turning the experience into sheer enjoyment. Eventually, you end up buying their make-believe theme "The best of times is now".

The third reason to recommend this play, you'll have to forgive me, is the moral of the story. Laurent, the son of the gay couple, feels forced to ask his "false" mother Albin to leave the house during the dinner, to avoid conflicts with his fiancée's right-wing father, a defender of "traditional family values". In the end, however, he comes to realize that Albin is as much his mother as a biological mother can be, and no pressure or ill-conception by other people justifies denying him that acknowledgement. The bottom line is that the concept of mother, father, and more broadly, family, has more to do with whom has raised and taken care of you when you were a child, than with merely accidental circumstances, such as an spermatozoid or an ovule. I guess this message was quite revolutionary in 1973, when Jean Poiret wrote the original French play. Well, when the United States pass an Act to define marriage as a union between a man and a woman (the DOMA), and in countries like Spain hundreds of thousands of people demonstrate in defense of traditional family, we might still be in need of some morals.