By Julia Morizawa
Romeo & Juliet (a disco drag farce): I had wanted to work with Paul Miailovich (director) for a while. He also joined the company around the same time I did and was one of the most dedicated and hard-working members from day one. He’s also very anal (that’s a compliment and not meant in the way you’re thinking) and really goes all out with his productions. I mean, for R&J, he rented a truck that some of the cast and crew disco danced on in the Gay Pride Parade in West Hollywood. How cool is that? Anyway, I had always wanted to work with Paul and he basically threatened that this might be my last chance since he was going to start law school. So I had to take the opportunity. Plus, he was boldly taking Shakespeare’s greatest tragedy, the most famous love-story of all time, and turning it into a comedy. But not just any comedy – a farce.
If you saw the show, you’ll remember that Juliet was played by a large man in drag (company member Scott Dittman) and all the fight sequences were turned into disco dance-offs. I had actually prepared and auditioned for the role of Romeo. Paul had stated that the role would remain male, but wanted to see me do it anyway. And that was a lot of fun – I got my boyfriend to help me prepare Romeo’s balcony monologue in a Brooklyn accent, portraying a lot of the Shakespearean text in exactly the way Shakespeare did NOT mean it, but in ways that modern English could poke fun at. But in the end, having someone like me (really not very convincing as a man) play Romeo would have weakened the punch line of Juliet being a drag queen.
So I took the role of Friar Laurence – you know, the guy that gives Juliet the fake-dead sleeping potion that leads Romeo to suicide that then leads Juliet to real suicide. Except I played the Friar as a blind Kung-Fu master. So I still got to play a man – just old, and with a really over-the-top stereotypical Asian accent. And yes, Paul and I discussed the should-we-or-should-we-nots of me (an Asian-American woman) playing this comedic, stereotypical Asian man. So maybe it was borderline offensive, but 1) I thought it was brilliant and so funny that I was cracking myself up, and 2) Asians tend to be okay with making fun of ourselves, it’s just when non-Asians tell us that we’re bad drivers that we get offended. So, I had a lot of fun with this role and it was great practice.
I’m not entirely confident when it comes to comedy, so I loved having a safe place to really go for it, and to have the right situation where there was no such thing as “too big.” The great thing about Paul’s direction is that he’d get his vision out for each scene within the first time we rehearsed it, which meant the remaining several weeks (and the run) were left for us to play, expand and discover. And I took the role seriously. I studied Chinese accents online (specifically Cantonese because I was told that’s the Chinese accent that most Americans associate with being a Chinese accent), I bought a beginning Cantonese CD so I could just hear and practice the sounds found in that language, I bought a Tai-Chi DVD to learn real moves for my opening scene, and I sported my long white beard and wig as early on in the rehearsal process as possible. That beard was initially a pain to work with but truly made all the difference. I even watched YouTube clips of Pai Mei from “Kill Bill” to learn how to whisk my beard over my shoulder (which is not as easy at it looks). Oh, it was so much fun!
Some lessons learned include: toupee tape works 100-times better than spirit gum (or any liquid or glue) for applying fake facial hair (especially if you have to take it off and put it back on several times within one show), disco dancing is an extreme cardiovascular work-out, and Vance Roi Reyes (Lady Capulet) looks better as a woman than I do.