Last year, speaking to a BBC reporter about the Singapore government repealing Section 377A, a colonialist-era holdover that criminalized gay sex, local LGBTQ+ historian Isaac Tng paraphrased the gay community’s mixed response to the news as follows: “It’s like a nice, hot cup of coffee,” he says, “that got left on the table.” It’s a sensation I remember from the U.S. Supreme Court Obergefell v. Hodges decision in 2015, which felt like a victory long-deferred and wedged behind a brewing, more vicious, litigiously nihilistic anti-queer movement.
Through 6/11: Thu-Sat 7:30 PM, Sun 3 PM, Pride Arts Center, 4139 N. Broadway, pridearts.org, $35 (students/seniors $30)
Originally produced by Singapore-based company Pangdemonium in 2017, Joel Tan’s Tango was written to be performed to an audience already immersed in the nonlinear modern history of queer rights in Singapore, a fact that gave director Carol Ann Tan some pause to present to a Chicago audience. In practice, though, sharing this uncompromised vision of Joel Tan’s story with Americans introduces viewers to enlightening parallels and echoes of both progress and backwards steps taken in the West. It also adds complicated, thought-provoking, squeamish layers to watching a white, wealthy British banker shout down an elderly service worker, homophobic as she may be.
In a story that deals with explosive Internet virality, though, ignition points in the story don’t quite build enough dramatic spark to hit as hard as they could. Reliance on aging and de-aging actors, too, creates artifice in a story deeply rooted in generational politics. But moments of tenderness, like those between father (Cai Yong) and son (G Hao Lee), or clandestine lovers (Oscar Hew, Ronnie Derrick Lyall), ring true and hit home—wherever that is.