BROHEMIA! A New Play was playing at the Kuala Lumpur Performing Arts Centre (KLPAC) from the 14th-24th of November. It’s a play by Kelvin Wong. It is the third and final new project of Theatresauce’s 2019 season.
I was gifted tickets to go and watch it from Eksentrika’s ticket giveaway and was excited to go and see it. The play summary stated that BROHEMIA! “is a fictional utopia strictly for mature audiences founded on the ideals of brawn, beauty and brotherhood. As the city celebrates its 7th Annual City Parade, the Mayor launches Vitamin M, a controversial drug that claims to permanently enhance the lives of all Brohemians. While most cheer at this move, a sceptical few embark on a journey of revolt to change the course of BROHEMIA!, for good.”
When I read that it would be discussing toxic masculinity, I thought that it might address issues in which men are dissuaded from displaying supposedly “feminine” traits such as expressing emotions other than anger or that masculinity could only be synonymous with power and strength as opposed to “softer” qualities such as empathy and caring for others.
Upon watching the show, I found that the “toxic masculinity” in BROHEMIA! was not exactly what I had expected, but revealed a bias and prejudice that exist within the homosexual and LGBT community against the more feminine or “soft” men and transgender women. There is also an element of racial prejudice which was lightly touched on in a line regarding skin colour, although this was not fully explored.
For me, BROHEMIA! exposes the hypocrisy that is within the LGBT community, in which the sexual majority, i.e.; “manly” gay men, set the rules for the rest of Brohemian society to follow. Oppression and suppression of the minority or minorities is a natural consequence of this sort of governance.
It is an important subject matter to tackle and some parts stood out, such as, when Aiman’s character, a transgender woman, goes on a date with a gay man; gets frustrated with him and lashes out with, “Too bad you’re gay!” resulting in Aiman’s character getting beaten up. Despite being pressed by friends to reveal the perpetrator, Aiman’s character keeps silent about the attack.
Another poignant moment was in a scene by Theyvapaalan’s character, who describes how he was violated (orgy scene). The character’s portrayal of the feelings of emptiness, loneliness and longing for a sense of belonging felt palpable.
The irony and hypocrisy was also evident in a plot twist towards the end of the play, in which, the PM of BROHEMIA!, continued to support only a certain type of masculinity (gay, masculine men only), while keeping a secret relationship with “Mak”, a mother figure in a group of transgender women.
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In the part where the rebels overthrew the government and “Mak” had been killed, the characters went on to castrate the PM by cutting off the latter’s gonads and squeezing them. I found this to be a little over the top although I understood the symbolism of turning the PM into a eunuch. The intent was probably to increase the dramatic effect of the scene. It ended up trivializing it instead and the gravity of the scene was diminished.
Overall, it was an interesting experience with remarkable performances by Ashraf and Theyvapaalan. It gave me food for thought and I believe is bound to stir further discourse. Beyond toxic masculinity, BROHEMIA! is a grim reminder of how absolute power corrupts, and how easy it is to become entitled and oblivious to the struggles of others, when one is in the majority group, be it with regards to sexuality, or any other matter.