Are Men in Dresses and Wigs Still Funny in Comedy?

ROSS In “Chicago” there’s Mary Sunshine. I will not steer away from saying that the role of Mary Sunshine is definitely deeply problematic. I haven’t fully processed it, because I understand where it sits in the show, but it’s jarring for me — it actually makes me flinch. I clap, because his voice is beautiful. But it’s almost as if I am vicariously experiencing that moment, and thinking that today that could happen to me — that someone would want to try to disrobe me.

MORRISON When we were at Playwrights, I did have a wig, and the wig actually became a big bone of contention, more than the dress. There was a moment where I would take the wig off onstage, and there was something about the meta-theatricality of taking that off. So when we got to D.C. [at Woolly Mammoth Theater Company], I said if the wig is something that is going to cause a problem, then we don’t need it. People in the trans community were let down by it — something about the wig was a bridge too far.

LEE If you are constantly seeing this trope of men wearing dresses being viewed as funny, or being viewed as a commentary on things being ridiculous, it directly correlates to seeing people who are transfeminine, trans women, nonbinary, gender-expansive, or gender nonconforming and somehow finding it either funny or ridiculous that they are presenting or expressing themselves in this way, and that directly leads to violence. The simple act of some man putting on a dress is not really funny to us, because our lives are affected by this directly. I think this is a challenge that our show did not meet. The lens through which “A Strange Loop” is told is very raw, is very honest, is very authentic, but inside of that is also sometimes a lot of harm and dismissal of trans people, of women, and that’s the case in many gay lenses. As an actress inside of the thing, I can’t help but notice.

ROSS When you take an American classic like “Chicago” and you put a Black trans woman front and center in the lead, it not only makes room for people of color and my fans and audiences to see themselves and know that it’s possible for them too, if this is the direction that they want, but it’s also forcing some folks who are dragging their feet toward the line of equality for everyone.

GHEE I love when characters make me look at myself and really assess the fullness of who I am. The possibility of sharing that mirror with audiences and the potential to open their eyes by creating greater understanding really excites me.