From Publishers Weekly
Listing examples of female impersonators in recent entertainment is no difficult task: Tootsie; Mrs. Doubtfire; The Crying Game or television's Bosom Buddies. Think of Boy George, David Bowie, RuPaul. Anyone who believes these often flamboyant and controversial characters are a recent manifestation would be well-advised to read late British writer Baker's fun, informative and revealing historical tour. Having emerged from church pageants, the theater was (like the church itself) dominated by men. Men got the female parts for centuries, including original portrayals of Shakespeare's Juliet, Lady Macbeth, Cleopatra, Desdemona. When actresses came into their own during the Restoration era, the man in drag moved to burlesque?where they tended to remain. Although almost entirely about female impersonation, there is a some mention of opera's trouser roles (Cherubino, Octavian, etc.). Likewise, the focus is Western, despite a chapter on Japanese and Chinese female impersonators. Baker spices his text with a gentle, appealing cynicism. (Talking about the corrupting influence of Elizabethan theaters, he notes, "Presumably countless grandmothers were hastily buried on the afternoons when Tamburlaine the Great or Macbeth were being played.") Baker's voice is a strong one, making Drag a quiet, funny and superbly documented study that should appeal to a variety of readers. Photos.
Copyright 1995 Reed Business Information, Inc.
British gay journalist Baker had finished two-thirds of this book, a much-needed updating of a 1968 original, when he suddenly died in November 1993 of complications of emphysema and Beijing flu. Two colleagues completed it, which is both a blessing and a curse: a blessing because Baker's work is exceptionally well researched and written in an absorbing, authoritative manner that makes the book hard to put down; a curse because Peter Burton and Richard Smith, though clearly knowledgeable and capable journalists, can't equal Baker's vigor. The last third of the book pales by comparison with the first 200 pages. Still, it certainly would have been a loss if this mostly finely written history of female impersonation had never seen the light of day, especially since, for the first time in centuries, it is possible to discuss issues of cross-dressing and gender bending free of the kind of religious moralizing (and related moralistic psychologizing) that used to make clear-eyed discussion of them impossible. Jack Helbig