[Fine-tuning a much-loved project]
I had the privilege of watching Legacy Project’s fifth rendition in 2018, and have some familiarity with artistic director Bruce Brown’s skill at the delicate craft of short play curation. The program declares its support for passionate and creative individuals to ‘demonstrate the power we wield when we come together to share something that is meaningful for all of us’, indicating the sense of community that is so central to the sixth rendition of stories adapted for the stage during Auckland’s Pride Festival. The evening does not manage to cover the ‘T’ or the ‘I’ in the acronym LGBTQIA+, although it is laudable that both ‘B’ and ‘Q’ feature prominently given the commitment to ‘strengthen the bridge of understanding’.
Walking into the vault of the Q Theatre, I am pleasantly surprised to find all of the cast out of character milling about the audience, handing out programs and chatting informally. We witness the pre-show motivation exercise and the yelling of ‘Let’s do this’ before they scurry backstage, and the lights dim on the intimate space as two chairs are brought on. The lights come up and two men appear in the chairs. They begin an easygoing conversation about a gay wedding they’re attending, but it quickly becomes clear that there are undercurrents of homophobia that are tightly, and on occasion unsuccessfully, concealed by Patrick Graham’s careful direction of hard-hitting words by Kieran Craft. We observe the two actors take on multiple characters, from a giggly maid of honour to the bewildered grandfather, from the eccentric aunt to the conciliatory best man, and it is a delight to watch Zach Robinson and Andrew Parker step into each of these so effortlessly.
The first story, ‘A Perfectly Normal Wedding’, leaves a cautionary aftertaste in my mouth – I find myself reflecting on the many situations wherein I’ve encountered homophobia in subtle, blink-and-you-miss-it ways. The ending is designed to leave an impact on us, as passionate onstage kisses between the two grooms serve as a provocative reminder of how little we see public displays of affection between two men in Auckland’s public sphere. We are gently guided toward the second story (‘Cracks’), and a lanky male teenager with an apron appears on a bare stage.
Following a brief reminder of the perpetuation of a patriarchal stranglehold on Auckland’s society, represented here by the assumption that ‘Jack’ can only be a male person’s name, I am given an insight into a ninth anniversary dinner between a couple of two females. Actors Ashleigh Hook and Sneha Shetty do an admirable job of bringing Jac and Dina to life. However, Todd Waters’ script is lacklustre in its construction of an argument that feels like it represents the critical reconciliation of lovers to the reality of ageing. This message loses itself in the confusing symbology of omnipresent youth in actor Jake Pitcher’s consistently consummate portrayal of David, the irritating university student working as a server who just doesn’t know when to excuse himself from an altercation between customers. I am still perplexed by director Catherine Yates’ insistence on a bare stage, given that access to a table and chairs was assured, as the third story reveals. The bare stage seems to detract from the audience establishing their bearings for the scene change from restaurant to parking lot, wherein the ability of David to have time away from his customers to poke his head into the argument as it plays out in the parking lot stretches credulity almost to breaking point.
Lights come up after a third blackout on an older man and a young man eating dinner from bowls and chopsticks in a busy environment. The tension between the two characters is superbly conveyed by skillful direction on Lucy Noonan’s part, and a pointed dialogue that shirks the urge to substitute pleasantries for a no-holds-barred chat about gender expectations between parents and their children – itself a testament to Daniel Ly’s scriptwriting. The story tells us about the experience of people of colour coming out to a first-generation migrant parent, which carries a content warning about references to sexual violence. Uhyoung Choi is memorable in his role as Daniel, the son struggling to come out to actor Aun Sukijjakhamin’s ‘Dad’, who is the unmatched star of this piece. Dad shines in his willingness to share vulnerability despite the visible difficulty he has in expressing himself throughout ‘Between Fathers and their Sons’, a thoughtful critique on how people of colour in the LGBTQIA+ community face when confronting our worst fears about those we love.
Legacy Six’s fourth story, ‘Supernova’, features a solo performance by Eric Soakai as Joshua, a Māori teenager struggling to come to terms with the diagnosis of cancer in an aunt he shares membership of the rainbow community with. His Aunty Fadi, performed by a cameo from Emma Kahu Orion Walter, is described through the picking up of photograph after photograph of moments in their lives together. Director Dan Goodwin expertly weaves strands of memory together at a lyrical pace, even as some photographs stick to Joshua’s feet as the experience of reaching back in time continues. It is a joy to hear Joshua Iosefo’s script come alive in something that feels like a dream sequence, and proves to be optimally placed as an interlude to the next story.
‘The Grey’, incisively written by Ashleigh Ogden, calls the audience’s preconceived notions about how sexuality is defined into question. A seemingly innocuous second date at an art gallery quickly progresses to a much more meaningful conversation about how the two characters understand their own reconciliations with being women attracted to other women in a society that likes to burden every one of its members with the stress of needing to live up to artificial unwritten expectations. Actors Sanaya Doctor and Georgina Marie are utterly fascinating to watch as their characters, Sam and Cara, are rendered as pragmatic art-lovers, lulling the audience into the routine of mentally sketching out where we think the story will go next. We are surprised by director Joanna Craig’s deft handling of anticlimactic peak, but are nevertheless contented for being treated to such a delicious crescendo on the way.
The final story, ‘For Pastor James of Lowell Park Christian Camp, The Gift of Movement’, is a lush ode to the wonders of interpretive dance while discussing taboo subjects. Beautifully choreographed, the plot leads us through an everyday conversation between two attendees at a religious camp, discussing the many forms of expressions that love can flow through. Micah and Luke do this in the midst of practising their dance moves to a song by Sufjan Stevens, and proceed to speak about Micah’s love of God and whether an effort to constrict how love is expressed among human beings should concern itself with people other than God. Ravikanth Gurunathan is a veteran of Legacy Project, and his role as Micah is compulsively believable down to the last quotation from the bible. Steven Glyde’s take on Luke’s capacity, to imagine an expansive interpretation of the myriad ways in which love can be expressed, is a marvel to behold. Will Moffatt’s steady hand ensures that a beat isn’t missed in direction, and the script by Phillip Good comes across as crisp.
I would struggle to indicate which of the six parts to this anthology I found most compelling, but if pressed, I would certainly lean toward the third story speaking to me as a person of colour. I feel privileged to leave the intimate staging of Legacy Six in the vault of Q Theatre to emerge into the summer evening, having been served a sizeable portion of food for thought. I look forward to what Legacy Project brings us in the future.
Legacy Six plays Q Vault until Feb 15.