Black Faggot | Multinesia ProductionsPhoto – Liesha Ward Knox

Given its award-winning pedigree (multiple fringe festival awards in both New Zealand and Australia) and rich subject matter (Polynesian males coming to terms with their homosexuality against a backdrop of homophobia and religion), Multinesia Productions’ was feted from early on to be a highlight of Brisbane Powerhouse’s 2014 World Theatre Festival program.

Unfortunately, while driven by some commendably staggering performances from Iaheto Ah Hi and Taokia Pelesasa, it’s actually an incredibly shallow, unfocused work – relying almost exclusively on cheap tricks to titillate an audience. There’s a surfeit of semi-decent ideas on display but, throughout, a refusal or inability to develop or engage with those ideas to any meaningful degree consistently hampers any attempt at humour or pathos on the part of the performers.

You can glean as much from the structure of the work. A barrage of vaguely interrelated skits featuring a wide array of characters and scenarios, writer Victor Rodger is clearly attempting to paint a broad picture of the diversity of his topic’s implications and manifestations. However, in pursuing his scattershot approach, he’s failed to provide the majority of said characters and scenarios with sufficient detail or logic as to give them veracity, weight or movement.

Whether attempting to coax emotion or laughter from an audience, Black Faggot is stalked by that lack of sophistication. The majority of the work’s humour seems to come from the contrast between incredibly effeminate and incredibly masculine properties. For example, an incredibly effeminate man aggressively rubbishing homosexuality. Alternatively, a gay man who is incredibly masculine and confrontational about his identity and sexuality. There are countless examples throughout.

Aside from being a pretty tired premise for humour, it’s actually a pretty problematic approach for the work for a number of reasons. Firstly, Black Faggot’s entire point would appear to be to demonstrate that neither homosexuality nor homophobia is unusual within polynesian communities. As such, by the work’s own admission, there’s nothing unusual or novel about any of the characters who would seem to engage with or bridge that divide.

Which is to say, there’s little that’s actually inherently funny about them. This could easily be remedied by a character being defined by something other than being an aggressive gay man or vice versa – but Rodger rarely defines any of his characters through anything other than their homosexuality or their relationship to the homosexuality of others. Which, in a work driven to show homosexuality is normal within a community, is a bit of a weird tactic.

There are a lot of ethical and intellectual ramifications to that tactic, too. However, it all comes back to underscore that, most of the time, Black Faggot isn’t funny. There’s nothing inherently funny about a man simulating anal sex or dancing like a woman. What is funny is what that man says or does in relation to either of those acts. With a few exceptions, Rodger doesn’t really show you the second half of that equation. When he does, it’s largely perfunctory and bland.

The work’s lack of sophistication, furthermore, utterly skewers every attempt it makes to seriously engage with its subject matter. Throughout, audiences are returned to Christian – who is praying to God to take away his homosexuality. This is an inherently affecting device. Again, though, Rodger doesn’t do anything with this situation other than to present it. Christian has no definition other than his homosexuality.

Is it an affecting moment? Absolutely. However, that has nothing to do with writer, director or stage. It’s an inherently emotional conceit and audiences are inherently empathetic. It was always going to be evocative. The problem is Rodger doesn’t do anything with that scenario. He’s effectively shared an internet meme or a chain letter. Again and again, Black Faggot’s shortcomings can be traced back to that lack of detail and sophistication.

Nowhere is this more evident than when Rodger actually does invest some detail into his characters. An aspiring football player named James, for example, who is struggling to come out of the closet. His narrative is, like Christian’s, a touch cliche – but, by simply seeing him interact with other characters, make decisions and engage with the consequences of his action, every component of his narrative is funnier and more affecting. His final scene, him enjoying being newly outed and living with his boyfriend, is beautiful.

Unfortunately, James doesn’t really turn up until nearly halfway through the work – and is still surrounded by detours into characters who are simply cliches and half-formed ideas. For this reason, more than any other, Black Faggot just feels like an unfinished work. There are ideas that could be used and expressions of originality (an older man reflecting on the freedom enjoyed by younger gay men has a lovely monologue) but they’re either woefully mishandled or hugely lacking in development.


Multinesia Productions presents
Black Faggot
by Victor Rodges

Director Roy Ward

Venue: Visy Theatre | Brisbane Powerhouse
Dates: 19 – 23 February, 2014
Tickets: $30
Bookings: brisbanepowerhouse.org


Part of WTF 2014



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