Flight over fancy [by Matt Baker]
I was disappointed to hear that Dianna Fuemana’s play Birds lost funding halfway through rehearsals. I wasn’t surprised, as it wasn’t the only negative funding news I had heard yesterday (am I right?), but to reiterate, I was disappointed. New Zealand is a melting pot of Asian and Pacific culture, and, as Black Faggot and Goodbye My Feleni confirmed earlier in the year, these stories can make for great theatre.
In saying that, Birds isn’t really a show that presents anything identifiably Nieuan in its storytelling. The show focuses heavily on the relationship between mums and teenage boys, and, while this universal theme allows audience members of all cultures to access the play, it doesn’t give them anything to take away from it. In doing this, however, Fuemana successfully avoids stereotyping her characters and relying on tendentious jokes.
As the show’s protagonist and narrator, Ali Foa’i has a beautifully resonant voice to guide us through the story, although his over-articulation prevents him from giving a naturalistic performance, which is needed to contrast the rest of the characters in the play. Foa’i has wonderful access to his emotionality, but needs an experienced director to flesh out the nuances of his character, as opposed to presenting the story with pantomimic gestures.
Bianca Seinafo proves her skill as a character actress, morphing seamlessly between her various supporting roles. Although some character traits wear thin due to overuse, there a periods where she is simply ‘doing’ on stage and waiting for her cue, they are nonetheless accurately exaggerated and humourous imitations.
While Scotty Cotter’s direction aptly highlights the comedy of the script, it lacks in its ability to execute the drama, or present a consistent style for the piece. At times, one character mimes their response along to the others’ monologue, a seemingly fruitless exercise in keeping both actors on stage.
Soloman Fuemana’s lighting design serves its purpose and can afford to be bolder in its more stylistic moments, but the sound design was quite tinny and cosequently jarring during the play’s title referencing scene. I’m not sure what the giant ‘U’ on Foa’i’s t-shirt represented, if anything at all, and due to the lack of props it would be preferable for him to be more in style with Seinafo’s black fitted movement clothes to create cohesion in the visual elements of the piece.
Criticisms aside, Birds has a solid story at its heart and with further development towards presenting the Nieuan culture (*cough* funding *cough*) it has the potential to be yet another show of which New Zealand can be proud to have produced.
Birds is produced by Sharu Delilkan and plays at The Basement Studio until September 17. For details see The Basement.
SEE ALSO: Theatreview review by Johnny Givins