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Puzzy | Auckland Pride Festival 2016

Stories have the power to shift perceptions, to change the dominant discourse and every now and then they can simply rock the world. Puzzy by Kiki does exactly that. Not because ‘coming out’ stories are new but because each time an individual believes that their voice deserves to be heard, in their own words and on their own terms, there is a tremor that causes yet another very necessary crack to the institutional infrastructure of our society.

This is the story of Mele, a Hawaii-based Samoan-Filipina Jehovah’s Witness lesbian who has to face not only her friends reactions but also those of the Elders in her community. Most terrifying of all she must come to terms with the likelihood that her sexual preferences will give her beloved grandmother a heart attack, a responsibility that she is rather unwilling to shoulder.

It’s a rapid-fire set of various vignettes that follow Mele’s journey, punctuated with laughter as we watch sparks fly on Tinder and OkCupid. There is tenderness in recognising the challenges she faces in reconciling her faith and her sexuality; and finally, a sense of relief and satisfaction as she finds her own place, inevitably, at her own pace.

Victor Rodger is an old hand at creating and delivering work that is unapologetically bold and brilliant and this new writing features his mentorship and support. Billed as a companion piece to Black Faggot, it is certainly a complementary take on a similar issue (raising the profile of the LGBT pasifika community) but equally it stands well on its own two feet.

Directed by Anapela Polataivao, this group of talented young women – including Frankie Adams (Mele), Nora Aati, Gaby Solomona and Malia ‘Ahovelo – are an incredibly powerful posse who bring back sass, seduction and smart with a delicious dose of personality and authenticity. The acting is a genuine highlight, all four women refute any stereotypical pretensions and under Polataivao’s light touch there is smooth and engaging meta-narrative that holds the work together and provides much more than a lesbian’s ‘coming-out-story’.

There is tension, latent emotional abuse, family conflicts, and conversations with God that stir pathos as they invoke the casualties of colonialism. The script credit ‘features’ Victor Rodger and while it’s a play (not a soundtrack) his presence is woven throughout the work; those familiar with his plays will easily to see how he has sculpted the script.

It’s not perfect, occasionally it’s even predictable, but that doesn’t take away from the reality of seeing these stories told on stage. The play starts somewhat nervously but it soon gathers momentum as the four co-stars unwrap their characters in all their complexities.

Aati, Solomona and ‘Ahovelo all play multiple characters, each performer combining a strong physicality with the ability to easily transition through a myriad of scenarios with clarity and distinction.

Dressed in stage blacks and performing under very simple lighting, it’s a work that has huge potential, in fact it is literally simmering with desire to take it to the next level. The script still needs to evolve and in its current incarnation requires the development of the core drama of the narrative and strengthening of the transitions, segues and space that are often told, rather than shown.

The heart of the play lies in the fact that while, yes, it is a play that deals with pride in who you are, it also casts a light on how influential relationships are with one’s grandparents – so much accountability (often self-imposed), fear and desire for approval are all meshed together. One of the definitive breakthroughs of the script is Kiki’s ability to capture that moment and Adams’ ability to deliver it with such poignancy and truth.

This is radical theatre. Brave, engaging and necessary. It’s on a journey. Get along for the ride.