“If there’s one thing I’ve learned in my career it’s that death is not a pretty thing. In fact, it’s down right ugly. That portal is not nearly as pearly as it is made out to be. When a friend’s time has come the least you can do is be there and hold their hand — and do their nails.”
— Charles Hayter in Lady in Waiting
You think you’ve heard every coming-out story going, then you walk into a theatre and a delightfully bitchy, slightly garish drag queen saunters onstage and begins to tell her own unique version of what it’s like to break down the closet door. You’re feeling a little jaded after having heard — or even written your own! — debutante debacles in monologue over and over and over again. But slowly, after about 10 minutes or so, the clichés begin to slip away and you are immersed within the sudden and unexpected allure of a new take on an old narrative.
Lady in Waiting, which ran earlier this month at Buddies in Bad Times Theatre and recently completed a successful run at New York’s Fresh Fruit Festival, is a 45-minute monologue that reveals the ins and outs of being a medical practitioner and a drag queen. It’s a moving and extremely entertaining vehicle for Charles Hayter, practicing oncologist and MD at large within Ontario’s fabulous medical playing field. In the hands of writer/performer Hayter, this playing field becomes a metaphoric metanarrative where coming out as a gay doctor, and later as a gay doctor who does drag, is both poignant and revealing in a world where one sometimes forgets that coming out is still a complex and often painful story.
Part fiction, part autobiography, Hayter’s script was dramaturged in its early stages by award-winning playwright Judith Thompson. As well as being an MD, Hayter also holds a degree in drama and ran into Thompson at Queen’s University during a 30-year drama reunion. She encouraged him to add a fictional “what if” scenario to his idea for the play, thus the story of a sick friend being aided by a hesitant drag queen-cum-doctor arose, adding the unique twist to this age-old coming-out tale.
A memorable moment occurs when the face of a pivotal drag persona is presented to the audience on an X-ray screen. We get to see her glamorous countenance as well as her less than glamorous oncology results. Hayter includes in the script his own moment of no return when he donned his first wig and felt tingles down his spine. He immediately felt camaraderie and genuine affection within the drag community and draws analogies between the medical community and the world of queenliness as social and professional realms where boundaries must be, and are, respected.
Future incarnations of the show could benefit from more dazzling production values and sharper direction regarding vocal projection and musical panache. Nevertheless the show grabs you early on and moves you through an often humorous and consistently moving response to one man’s desire to support his respective communities in a holistic, loving and sincere manner.
So the next time you go for a checkup check out “his” eyebrows and his manicurial extremities. If they seem a little sleek and stylish you may be one of those lucky enough to have a real queen as your real doctor.