New Zealand is proud of Peter Jackson and the magic he created in bringing The Hobbit to the big screen. Kiwis are also patriotic about both Rusell Crowe and Lucy Lawless as The Gladiator and Xena respectively. But New Zealand also holds bragging rights to the largest Polynesian city in the world. Enter FCC (Flow, Creating, Connecting - Pasifica practitioners) a new theater movement driven by playwright Victor Rodger. Skilfully tapping into a rich pool of Polynesian talent, his latest offering Wild Dogs Under my Skirt is based on a collection of poetry by Tusiata Avia.
Challenging our perceptions on Pacific Island women, we are taken behind the scenes to witness a deeply personal account of cultural contrasts. While there are plenty of laughs to enjoy, a haunting pain often came stabbing through the humor. In a bold and brave display of Samoan village life, the talented cast of six women had me mesmerized.
The opening scene shows Stacey Leilua as Tusiata, the author of the play. (who successfully toured Wild Dogs Under My Skirt as a solo show, before it’s adaptation to an ensemble cast) Poised and elegant she gracefully dances across the stage, with a big ass machete! (which we also learn is used to open cans of corn beef, and cut the lawns)
Joanna Mika is Manila in one of the stand out stories for me. Desperately seeking “Alofa”, (love) a young village girl is trapped between the blurred lines of promiscuity and abuse. Love in it’s all varying definitions, are explored as she tries to make sense of what alofa really is. Finally accepting solitude in the guilt of other’s sins, it’s a powerful and moving piece.
The transitioning of the scenes to the next poem, makes clever use of all six actresses as the supporting chorus. With an undertow of building chants, rhythmic clapping, background charades or sweet melodies, the fragments of their stories are intricately woven together. There is also impressive use of lighting, creating ghostly shadows
Proving she’s much more than just a pretty face, Nora Aati is Mary Jane. Her comedic timing is on point, as she delivers laughs with her interpretation of Island table manners “we are direct descendants of flesh eaters” through to her lead in the hilarious cabaret style song “Dusky Maidens”.
Special mention also goes out to Grace Vanilau in her debut performance as Teine Sa. The deep and sultry tones of her solo were impressive, and the perfect accompaniment to her adulterous temptress.
The metaphor of Wild Dogs Under my Skirt is brilliantly captured when the stage is suddenly attacked with the captivating choreography of the Pacific Institute of Performing Arts dancers. Bathed in red light as the characters leave the stage, the footprints of superstitions echo in the distance.
There is plenty to admire about the raw and vibrant performances delivered. The pace flows smoothly, lingering on each character’s story long enough to give us a good insight into their vulnerabilities. Rooted deep in traditions, we are served a taste of Samoan culture, complete with all its tainted beauty.
Superbly written, and executed by a stand out cast of powerful Polynesian women, I would definitely recommend you jump at the opportunity to view this. It was during those moments when I found a tear had escaped and was silently running down my check, that I realised just how much this play had moved me.
4.5 out of 5 star rating