Review: Gay Couple With a Son Emigrate to Singapore—With Consequences— in Tango at Pride Arts

Kenneth and Liam are a couple who have been together for years. They have an adopted son, 12-year-old Jayden. And after living in London, they’ve moved to Singapore, to be with Kenneth’s father, a recent stroke victim. Kenneth’s job as a high-level bank executive has made the job transfer possible and Liam plans to be a stay-at-home dad. These plans sound fine—unless you consider Singapore’s long history of human rights restriction and abuses, as well as an appalling record on LGBTQ rights.

Tango, the story of Kenneth and Liam, opened this week at Pride Arts Center, directed by Singapore native Carol Ann Tan. Tango was written by Joel Tan, also a Singaporean by birth, who based his work on the story of two gay men with a backstory similar to that of Kenneth and Liam. The play presents an important story but tells it without the excitement it needs—and without enough attention to Singapore’s political context.

We meet Kenneth (G Hao Lee) as the play opens as he visits with his old friend Elaine (Carolyn Hu Bradbury) in a Chinese café. Soon Liam (Mike Newquist) and Jayden (Luke Gerdes) arrive from an outing and it’s time to order dinner. When Liam excuses himself to go to the loo, waitress Poh Lin (Rainey Song) comes to the table to take their order and assumes that Elaine and Kenneth are Jayden’s parents. It takes a while but Kenneth is insistent on explaining that he and Liam are the boy’s parents. Poh Lin is horrified at the idea of two men raising a boy—and calls them perverts. She refuses to serve them, in a furious rant. 

Mike Newquist and G Hao Lee. Photo by Marisa KM.

Later Lim and Kenneth discover that someone in the restaurant filmed the incident and uploaded the video to social media. It has many hits already and many comments, some supportive of the couple and some not. 

The second half of the play is the after-effect of that social media posting, resulting in protests that are difficult to carry off in this city-state where freedom of expression is tightly regulated. A side plot involves Poh Lin’s nephew Benmin (Oscar Hew) and the young man he meets on a dating app. We also get acquainted with Kenneth’s father, Richard (Cal Yong), whose attitudes about parenting differ from those of his son and son-in-law—but as often happens in real life, Grandpa and grandson Jayden form a strong bond.

Scenes in the two-act play are punctuated with voiceovers representing current news reports, social media posts and tweets. The script also uses many examples of Singaporean dialect, which are defined in a Singlish Glossary in the playbill. 

Some lengthy on-stage conversations are conducted in Cantonese or Singapore Mandarin with projected English subtitles on a side wall. But the position of the projected text made it hard to watch the actors and also read subtitles. Those conversations were generally lost to an English-speaking audience. 

Performances are generally good, although the personal relationships mostly lack chemistry. The most believable relationship is between Benmin and his boyfriend Zul (Ronnie Lyall). Tan’s direction and pacing are a bit pokey and the play could be trimmed or paced to run 15 minutes shorter. Actors are on stage at all times, sitting off to the side when their characters are not in a scene. 

Cal Yong and G Hao Lee. Photo by Marisa KM.

Kudos to Pride Arts for casting the play with many Singaporean and Asian actors. 

Tango is performed on an alley or traverse stage, with audience members seated on both sides. There’s virtually no furniture, only a few pieces needed for each scene, which actors bring on as they enter. The scenic concept is by director Carol Ann Tan with lighting by Elliott Hubiak and sound by Valerio Torretta Gardiner.

Tan’s script might have provided more context about Singapore’s political environment. Although nominally democratic, the country represses press and speech freedoms. Freedom House said in 2015 that the Singapore press is “not free” and the Economist Intelligence Unit rated Singapore a “flawed democracy” in 2022. Singapore’s anti-LGBTQ laws are suggested when Kenneth says that when he crossed the border, he became a single parent; Liam could not be considered a parent. There’s much more to be learned about Singapore’s political situation and why it would be an uncomfortable place to live for a gay couple. It’s a country where even the sale of chewing gum has been banned since 1992. 

Tango continues at Pride Arts Center through June 11 at 4139 N. Broadway. Running time is two hours plus a 15-minute intermission. Tickets are $35 for performances Thursday-Sunday. 

For more information on this and other productions, see

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Nancy S Bishop
Nancy S Bishop

Nancy S. Bishop is publisher and Stages editor of Third Coast Review. She’s a member of the American Theatre Critics Association and a 2014 Fellow of the National Critics Institute at the Eugene O’Neill Theater Center. You can read her personal writing on pop culture at, and follow her on Twitter @nsbishop. She also writes about film, books, art, architecture and design.