Sex, Drugs, and Transvestites Under A Shanghai Moon

by Joseph Russell · June 3, 2008

[Image via Charles Busch]

I've lived in Manhattan for a year and a half and not once have I been to a play. I have trouble suspending belief, with seeing more than a stage and heavily made-up actors. And I hate musicals. Camp, however, and parody, I do like, and both are in abundance in Charles Busch's Shanghai Moon, which opens today at the Bay Street Theatre in Sag Harbor. The play is set in 1930's China, and stars Mr. Busch as Lady Sylvia Allington, a young American who is seduced by the East's illegal pleasures. Sylvia and her British diplomat husband, Lord Allington, go to China in an attempt to convince a warlord named Gong Fei to donate a jade bust to the British Museum, but their mission is sidetracked after Sylvia discovers opium and falls in love with Gong Fei. Scandals, branding, homicide,and poison ensue, along with fantastic costumes, cultural stereotypes, and rapier-sharp dialogue. Shanghai Moon is in large part a tribute to Mr. Busch's penchant for pre-censored Hollywood, with references to Frank Capra's The Bitter Tea of General Yen, Cecil B. DeMille's The Cheat, and William Wyler's The Letter. Opium dens, drag, and "terpsichorean art" sound like a winning combination, but not being exactly qualified to judge, I'd suggest seeing it for yourselves --and telling me what you think!