Black Faggot

ARTS, Theatre & Performing Arts

img_blackfaggotMultinesia/Victor Rodger
New Zealand Festival
Hannah Playhouse | February 25-March 1

Black Faggot is a politically motivated comedy that aims to address gay male experience in New Zealand’s Samoan culture. In the space of an hour, Iaheto Ah Hi and Tasofia Pelesasa perform a number of crass, raw, humorous, and touching characters in quick fire succession. Difficult technical demands are easily married to strong and engaging performances, executed in black tops and shorts, and on the wide, blacked out space of the Hannah Playhouse (what was Downstage).

Although many characters cross our path, two young men are the particular catalyst for moving the narrative along; there’s James, gay on the down low but too embarrassed to come out to his friends and family; and Christian, a god fearing picket wielder who’s determined to pray his gay away (on sound advice from his cousin). Despite its conventionality, the journey to self-empowerment (forgive the cliché) provides action during the time when one feels misled by flakey, albeit endearing, characters—a confusion, I suspect, over whose story is being told, and why.

That is not to say the others lack charm or the power to affect the audience—the play opens with an encounter between a bigot and an out and proud gay man, who remains one of the deeply memorable characters of the show (sensitively portrayed by Iaheto Ah Hi). We also meet James’s mother-in-denial, and dumbbell wielding brother; Rob, and his tenuous sexual relationship with Michael; and Miranda Malo, a gutsy fa’afafine. But where multiple strings are introduced, few are tied by the play’s conclusion.

A similar problem I encountered when trying to connect intent with execution. Is this a political work? Although it takes a long moment before my mind jumps from “enough is enough” to the 2004 Civil Union protests, I do eventually make the connection and then link it to the more recent Gay Marriage Act. Obviously it is a critical issue. Yet the lives of our protagonists seem generally unaffected, and I’m not struck by a turbulent political backdrop, but a kind of vacuum—characters independent of, not living within, their historical context.

In spite of these criticisms, Iaheto Ah Hi and Tasofia Pelesasa render their performances with a precision and clarity that is hard to come by. Their stage presence is enlivening, electrifying, and one leaves with a very real sense of love.