Why four? Because myself and my partner both loved it.
First you need to know this show has a stellar past. Winner of six Dora (Toronto Theatre) awards when it first appeared at Buddies in their 2008-9 season, it has since toured to great acclaim, including a stop off at the National Arts Centre in Ottawa, before returning in triumph this month to Buddies, where it all began. And it began as a product of Buddies Queer Youth Program, following an open-mike performance by its then unheard of star and creator. It is in fact a personal triumph for Waawate Fobister from the Grassy Narrows First Nation Reserve near Kenora Ontario. He’s living his dream.
Says Fobister “the Anishinaabe people were always storytellers. It’s been a huge part of our culture, and theatre to me is the modern way of storytelling."
The story Fobister tells here is one played out by young men exploring their sexuality everywhere, but it is totally rooted in aboriginal culture, lore and history. It’s kind of nice, too, to discover drama that treats aboriginals not as spiritual beings, descendants of the “noble savage” or as a community dealing with its fair share of bad luck and trying circumstances. Agokwe (meaning "two-spirited", having elements of both the man and the woman) comfortably occupies the middle ground. In other words it's a tale of real people living real lives we can identify with because we share similar trials and tribulations. In this case those trials involve looking for love, finding it returned and dealing with the fallout.
Our protagonists in this tale of life and love on the rez are Jake and Mikie. Jake is a hockey player not outwardly gay but with repressed feelings for gay boy Mikie. Their romance, first rebuffed by Jake, later literally embraced, ultimately goes nowhere. In fact it goes very badly. Homophobia is a terrible thing.
Jake and Mikie - and everyone else on stage for that matter - are played by playwright wunderkind Fobister. He's quite brilliant at switching roles in a moment, just with a change of voice and inflection of the head. Even more impressive is when he gives individual voices to seemingly a whole crowd watching a hockey game. This is a bravura performance by any standards.
He is also extremely likeable. We are on his side from the moment he appears in an elaborate winged costume as Nanabush, a sort of mythic narrator who opens and closes the show. Whoever Fobister is playing at the time, he seldom leaves the confines of what he calls his “fabulous wigwam”. But the show never feels claustrophobic. Production values are high. This gritty tale is given a high gloss with stunning visuals and a bright sound-scape.
I have friends who don't like one-person shows. They would like this performance because its character-laden 90 minutes feels anything but a one-man show.
What an lgbt audience will particularly relate to is a tale of empowerment which had many whooping and hollering throughout. And laughing too. This show is funny. But it also trades in themes that are meaty, presented in a highly accessible way. That's exactly the kind of show I like. I think you will too.
Agokwe closes Sun May 15
Shows Tues- Sat 8pm, Sun 2.30 pm
Tickets PWYC - $33 Box Office 416-975-8555
Tickets available on line at totix.ca
Buddies in Bad Times Theatre
12 Alexander Street, Toronto
Buddiesinbadtimes.com Twitter @YYZBuddies