Toronto
2 min

The long & winded road

Kevin Sheard rambles amiably

FIRST ACTING JOB, A BEJEWELLED TREE. Kevin Sheard (aka Sophie De Lee) recounts his reluctant life in drag. Credit: Xtra files

Kevin Sheard’s new play, Always An Actress, could easily be included in the Unique Lives And Experiences women’s lecture series – except Sheard is a man and is willing to devote nearly three hours to convince us of that fact.



After opening the play with a delightful rendition of the song “One Of The Boys Who’s One Of The Girls” (from Woman Of The Year), Sheard playfully launches into a make-up tutorial. The tone changes as cosmetics are applied and he begins to discuss his feelings towards his life in heels. Proclaiming that drag is a “mask” he reluctantly uses as an actor, Sheard begins an awkward discourse that will run throughout the evening.



Working from point-form notes rather than a script, he recounts highlights of his 40-year career, with varying degrees of success. Sheard’s delivery is informal, amiable and rambling – the stories go on long past the point of interest.



Sheard insists drag is something he “fell” into, and it’s clear that he maintains a very conflicted relationship with the art form. From flirtations with it on school dress-up days to his first acting job as a bejewelled tree, he reminds us frequently that he never courted life as a drag queen.



Interspersed throughout are songs performed with surprising finesse. Sheard’s pleasing baritone is beautiful, offering a much needed respite from the long-winded monologue. Using simple backing tapes, he evokes real emotion while singing.



The second act begins well, with Sheard in his drag persona Sophie De Lee. Recreating his Gay Game Show act from local bar Trax, he enlists audience members to play an R-rated Wheel Of Fortune (sans wheel). This starts out quite funny, but loses steam after too many rounds.



The play requires ruthless editing to bring forward the many funny and touching moments. Co-director Paddy Aldridge has created an appropriately subdued mood and David Buffa’s lighting design lends much-needed definition to each segment.



It’s ironic that Sheard spends so much time distancing himself from drag queendom while holding up his many achievements as Toronto’s Empress V with obvious pride. It’s unclear if Sheard is aware of this inconsistency; he implies that drag is artificial and meaningless to him, that it’s just a way to make money.



Perhaps it would ring more sincerely if the piece were entitled Always An Actor, minus the black tights and 3″ pumps he wears throughout the entire show.



Sheard closes the play bitterly convinced his drag history has compromised attempts at a family life. It is an uncomfortable resolution, and seems sadly at odds to the innocent fun generated earlier as De Lee.



* Always An Actress continues at Tallulah’s Cabaret (12 Alexander St) until Sun, Mar 28; call (416) 975-8555.