THE ROMANCE OF THE SIAMESE DREAM
In a world between reality and imagination,
a woman creates a fiction to cover up her past
and a man creates a character that will forever change
Will they become who they are meant to be?
Only the romance of the dream will tell.
YUL BRYNNER is having one of his recurring dreams.
He’s on stage for the 4,634th performance of THE KING AND I.
The theatre is deserted. All the work lights and house lights are on.
A traveling spotlight is trained on him.
YUL paces, barefoot, to the proscenium. The spotlight follows.
YUL paces, barefoot, to the scrim. The spotlight follows.
YUL paces, barefoot, to the wing stage right. The spotlight doesn’t follow.
Thinking he’s free of it, YUL turns his back on the spot, which immediately makes a beeline for him.
YUL swears he can hear the light chuckle.
A large rice cooker appears stage center. Its top is open. It is clean and empty. The electric cord spills out of its side. The metal is buzzing.
In the dream the rice cooker tells YUL its name is TIGER.
YUL paces up to TIGER, barefoot, exposes his chest, raises his brow, points his finger.
TIGER (telepathically): Wow, I’m so not impressed.
YUL (emphatically): Go on go on go on!
TIGER (telepathically): OK, so…I’m a wormhole. I didn’t show up last time you had this dream, so if I were you, I’d take a ride.
YUL can feel TIGER’s hot breath.
TIGER wants YUL to come inside.
YUL gingerly inserts his bald head into the cooker. He sheds his silk jacket, his silk fisherman pants, and his two gold anklets.
YUL emerges out on the other side. He’s on stage again. The house lights and work lights are out. All the spots are focused on him, blinding white. He’s sitting on the floor, knees drawn up to his chin, naked and hairless.
TIGER is gone. In TIGER’s place is ANNA. The REAL ANNA Leonowens from THE KING AND I. ANNA is wearing a giant hoop skirt that fills two-thirds of the stage. She’s wearing a strange brooch set with two tiger claws. She’s here to teach YUL the art of acting.
ANNA (dismissively): What a child you are.
YUL (defensively): I used to be a boy. What I choose is my choice.
ANNA (excitedly): Do you want to pretend? Do you want to play a game of make-believe?
Backstage the dressing rooms are filled with white underwear and metal forks, all in disarray. ANNA directs YUL to go clean it up.
YUL is sweating. He can’t stack up all the forks perfectly, they keep slipping and falling. When YUL folds one pair of underwear, three more appear.
ANNA (inquisitively): Do you want to change your name?
YUL (decisively): People don’t know my real self, and they’re not about to find out!
At the proscenium appears a railing. ANNA and YUL lean on it and look out into the audience.
ANNA (reminiscing): I came to America from the same port as the Titanic. And I…
YUL (with gusto, completing ANNA’s sentence):…and I am the King of Siam!
YUL feels slightly ridiculous, like he’s in a blockbuster movie.
ANNA (in the manner of good advice): Reinvent yourself the moment you disembark.
ANNA directs YUL to stop organizing the underwear and forks backstage and make a living poem out of it.
Instead, YUL writes a dead letter to ANNA’s grandmother.
Dear Sleeping Dictionary,
Won’t you wake?
I need to look up the word, “Character.”
Army, British Bombay. Where is
Penang, Prince of Wales.
The stage turns into a raft on the river, secured to the shore by ropes and chains.
ANNA (nostalgically): I wrote my biography in eight pages. My grandchildren believed every word of it. All it requires is that you act the part.
YUL (apprehensively): So, I pretend to be someone I want to be…
ANNA (definitively): …and I finally become that person, or she becomes me.
ANNA stares at YUL with entire singleness of eye. In thirty seconds YUL grows a full head of hair that keeps growing down to the floor, across the stage, into the aisles. In thirty seconds ANNA has progressed to old age and is going blind. Her dark, deep-set eyes turn into balls of hard white wax.
HIGHLIGHTS: Yul Brynner performed the role of the King in The King and I approximately 4,633 times during the course of his lifetime. He was known to make up stuff about his life in interviews, like saying he was descended from Genghis Khan. The real Anna Leonowens was born in Bombay in working class military camps; her mother was most likely mixed race (half South Asian, half White). At some point in her life Anna decided to rewrite her past and told people she was born in England and was an upper class Englishwoman. Everyone believed her—even her grandchildren. The author is intrigued by the way these two people reinvented their lives, and how the characters they brought to life are wrapped up in The King and I saga.
DID YOU KNOW? This piece was written while listening to the Smashing
Pumpkins’ Siamese Dream (1993) album.
Jai Arun Ravine is a writer, dancer and graphic designer. As a mixed race, mixed gender and mixed genre artist, their work arises from the simultaneity of text and body and takes the form of video, performance, comics and handmade books. Jai’s first full-length book, แล้ว AND THEN ENTWINE: LESSON PLANS, POEMS, KNOTS, re-imagines immigration history and attempts to transform cultural inheritances of silence. Their short film TOM/TRANS/THAI approaches the silence around female-to-male (FTM) transgender identity in the Thai context and has screened internationally. THE ROMANCE OF SIAM is their second book.