Black Faggot

ARTS, Theatre & Performing Arts

img_blackfaggot2By Victor Rodger
Directed by Roy Ward
Presented by Multinesia
Herald Theatre, Auckland | March 4-8

Black Faggot returns to Auckland with a lot of hype. After selling out almost immediately during the 2013 Fringe Festival, then winning approximately a billion awards and travelling to Australia, it’s already made itself a must-see in any Auckland theatregoers calendar.

Similar in form to, and inspired by, Toa Fraser’s Bare, Victor Rodger’s play is a series of interwoven monologues presenting a kaleidoscope of gay Samoan men, from the closeted undercover brother, to the teen growing up and praying he isn’t gay, to a fa’afafine artist presenting work like Cracker Wanna Poly. All these roles are played by two actors, Iaheto Ati Hi and Taofia Pelesasa, who transition seamlessly from monologue to monologue.

The rave reviews of Black Faggot in its previous seasons don’t lie: this is a brave, bracing, and as awful as this word is, important play. It’s also an incredibly funny play. Rodger portrays the full spectrum of these characters by not only showing their dark moments, but inviting the audience to laugh with them. Rodger’s own agency and identity makes it clear that he’s not presenting these characters for laughs. Rather, he’s inviting the audience to make fun of their rituals, like a recurring character yelling at his partner after sex and all the antics that go on in a gay club, to better understand them.

However, Rodger also handles darker moments with true grace and integrity. A character, almost cruelly named Christian, praying to God to make him straight, is one of the most wrenching things I’ve seen onstage. The brilliance in Rodger’s play—or at least his take on this subject matter—is how universal he makes the plights and heights of all these Samoan gay men and how easy it is to empathise with them, not just sympathise with them. Though occasionally too essay-like and preachy—and it must be said that this play often speaks to the converted—it never loses that human connection.

None of this means anything without performers talented enough to carry it across, and Black Faggot is lucky enough to have two of them. It’s impossible to single either actor out, for they both have brilliant moments. Iaheto Ah Hi’s fa’afafine artist is balanced perfectly between parody and truth, as is his mother character, but he also nails the righteous indignation of a man dating somebody who is in the closet. On the other hand, Taofia Pelesasa’s portrayal of the God-pleading Christian is heartbreaking, but he also hits the nail on the head when portraying some of the more macho characters, and even more impressively the characters who are trying to be macho. Both performances excel when they’re in scenes with each other, and with the plotlines that run throughout the play, especially the tentative courtship between Jay and Sione, they reach somewhere higher, somewhere spiritual. In these moments it feels like we’re being invited into something special.

It’s a credit to Roy Ward’s direction that it all comes together as seamlessly as it should; it’s blocked so deftly and with such minimal fuss that young theatre directors (and honestly, some more experienced ones) should take note. It’s a joy to watch the performers and listen to the words, as it is to see the movement from one character to another, and from one state of mind to another.

You should already have booked tickets to Black Faggot, but if you haven’t, then do so as soon as you can. As off-putting as this label is, it is an important play. Even more than that, it’s a great play. Don’t miss out.