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Your Alt-Right Auntie/Uncle Needs ‘Black Faggot and Puzzy’

Your Alt-Right Auntie/Uncle Needs ‘Black Faggot and Puzzy’

(l-r) Eric Combs, Bailey Campbell, Ryan Okinaka, and Jason Kanda in Kumu Kahua Theatre's Black Faggot.

(l-r) Eric Combs, Bailey Campbell, Ryan Okinaka, and Jason Kanda in Kumu Kahua Theatre's Black Faggot.

By Guest Staff Reviewer Jessica L. Jacob. She is a Theatre Administrator, Director, and Instructor with a Master of Fine Arts degree in Performance.

Black Faggot and Puzzy made for a fabulous Friday with friends. An atmosphere of ‘ohana and mirth characterized the audience throughout the evening. Kumu Kahua Theatre’s current production features a pairing of one-act plays that is as bold and outspoken as it is witty and a tad wacky. Yet, this duo offers counterpoints of vulnerability and questioning that ground the central topics, so charmingly handled, with real life gravitas. A general kudos to the ensembles and their creative teams for balancing comedy and poignancy with such deftness.

The performance began with Black Faggot by the award-winning New Zealand playwright Victor Rodger. Through fast-paced vignettes and monologues, an ensemble of four inexhaustible male actors (Bailey Campbell, Eric Combs, Jason Kanda, and Ryan Okinaka) portrayed critical and comical moments in the lives of multiple characters. Scenes contrasted those comfortable with their sexuality against others steeped in conflict as the latter struggled with irreconcilable internal and external pressures related to coming out. This production of Black Faggot was lasciviously irreverent comedy at its sweetest and most charming. Moments of audience interaction added hilarity and a sense of spontaneity to the production. After intermission, the second one-act entitled Puzzy, created by local playwright Kiki and featuring a collaboration with Victor Rodger, took the stage. This one-act followed Mele, a female college student, Samoan, and Jehovah’s Witness, as she came out to her friends, family and congregation, and her head-first dive into the same-sex dating scene. Puzzy was also told in a series of episodes, but with an all-female quintet (Leleaʻe Kahalepuna-Wong, Kristen Labiano, Kalia Ongolea, Kelli Pagan, and Michelle Umipeg) of performers. Both plays were at moments devastating and hopeful. The combination of the two plays into one program illuminated concurrences of themes and situations between the male and female coming-out experience while also exploiting the contrasting sticking, or should we say sticky points to great comic effect.

The playbill correctly categorized the casts as ensembles. The teamwork and ‘ohana on stage was evident in their clean and coordinated performances. The scenes flowed from one to the next with instant changes of character and locale. There were times, however, in Black Faggot when an actor’s transition to a different character took a few confused moments for the audience to discern, but the “new” character quickly distinguished itself. One such moment was with an actor that played both the father and the lover of another actor’s character. That moment of blurred father/lover may have been intentional or not. All four of the actors in Black Faggot offered solid, mature, committed and nuanced performances. Director Taurie Kinoshita, with the words of Victor Rodger, created a world where bold and in-your-face hilarity could coexist with crushing self-doubt and despair in harmony.

Puzzy’s director, Donna Blanchard, created a well-synchronized complex organism on stage. The five actresses not only hit all their “notes” and “marks” on stage, but also seemed to thrive as an ensemble. It seems a small thing, but I observed genuine encouraging smiles throughout and I have rarely, if ever, seen a cast pull off the quite common usage of the “everyone dance your own dance onstage” moment without a big dose of actor-based “awkward.” Even that potential Bermuda Triangle of stage energy was cleanly navigated. Unlike Black Faggot, which had more than one protagonist, Puzzy’s story revolved primarily around the character of Mele, played by Labiano. Labiano was a delight to watch and her cast mates provided strong support for the story. Director Blanchard, like Director Kinoshita, assembled a group of performers that embodied the talent-balance, flow, and energy of a truly ensemble production.

The two plays used minimal sets, props and limited lighting effects which allowed the audience’s attention to remain on the performers. While the aesthetic pointed to low-budget theatre, overall it did not detract but rather receded to make room for the performers. A certain prop in Black Faggot that was used to symbolize something else (I’m trying to avoid spoilers here) might have been solved even more effectively, but was still fun in spite of its imperfection. The saturated colors in the light design of Puzzy at times seemed to give the characters’ hair unintentional highlights. But the vigor and commitment of the performers overcame any incidental distractions. The use of a live DJ stage left in Puzzy made for some fabulously understated humor and for modulated sound levels, ensuring an ideal balance between music levels and actor voices. The costume design by Iris Kim fit the production (and the performers), through its simplicity, its ability to be noticed and recede, and for the individualized aspect of each character’s costume to demonstrate its relevance at a particular moment in the story (once again, trying not to reveal spoilers). Kim’s costuming for Black Faggot was realistic in style and well considered with one leopard-print shirt that was the jewel in the crown of that wardrobe.

This production was a clear winner in my book, yet perhaps not for your Alt-Right Auntie or Uncle. I’d say, take them anyway and have a discussion. These plays, overall, are part of that road to better understanding and compassion. A bold and brassy, ribald and naughty road well traveled by some and a new adventure for others. I hope Honolulu audiences will take a chance on this production and get their passport stamped with this fun and flippant tour through someone else’s experience. I’m glad that I did.

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