Open Note: A Review of Thirsty

Rina Patel reviews Ali Foa'i's solo show, Thirsty.

Rina Patel reviews Ali Foa'i's solo show, Thirsty.

With a foundation as a Unitec acting grad, Ali Foa'i has developed this solo as a result of his MA in creative writing. Premiering the show in Wellington’s Pūtahi Festival last year he now brings it to the Basement studio.

Perched on a small rostra in a minimalist space, and supported well by lighting phrases, Ali morphs in and out of multiple larger-than-life characters. First up, we’re briskly introduced to multiple characters via a live gossip chat hotline – a handy multi-character intro theatre device, if a bit dated. I did wonder why not Snapchat or Tinder? But hey, it still works.

We meet Tyra, a Mangere gal desperate to connect with guys, Devonté, a hunky jock amping with testosterone, and Amos, an unemployed strawberry picker seeking the benefit. There’s also Veronika van der Kray, the head girl (fourth year in a row) of an all girls school, and Tiale, the Pasifika (yet mistaken for Maori) WINZ case manager. We meet a bunch of minor characters to colour the hotline including: Barry, the very palagi 48 year-old rural bloke, and Raj, a Mt Roskill grammar boy with an Indian accent much in the vain of Hank Azaria doing Apu from the Simpsons. I could be offended, but for the love of black comedy I guess it's funny, lol.

Themes of identity, love, disappointment and expectation come packaged in this one-man show with gusto and (sometimes controversial) song. We come to know what each character is seeking and it's clear they're all 'thirsty' for something. Ali explores and refines each character's trajectory – disappointment for some and joy for others.

While watching this world of larger-than-life characters, I couldn’t help but think of Aussie comedian Chris Lilley (best known for his mockumentary TV series Summer Heights High). There are solo shows that portray and solo shows that caricature, and Thirsty feels like it lives in the latter category.

Based on general observations of mannerisms and accents, Thirsty remains within the parameters of stereotype; taking its performance cues from a general collection of how people act given surface assumptions. However, if each character were drawn from careful observation, the nature of representation on stage would differ and would have the potential to take us to deeper territories.

Stereotypes aside, I really appreciate the amount of vocal work at play throughout, and it’s clear this is one of Ali's strengths and used to his advantage. Vela Manusaute's direction is minimal yet crisp in terms of consistent pace and slick character-to-character action. There are fine moments of comedic nuance and I’m sure Manusaute would’ve ensured the precision in delivery of these.

There are solo shows that portray and solo shows that caricature, and Thirsty feels like it lives in the latter category.

If there was one character that really stood strong in terms of embodiment, emotion and purpose, it's Tyra, the shy '275' (Mangere area code) girl – she's complex and the closest thing to moving away from a stereotype – Ali’s interpretation and natural comfort in evoking effeminate qualities begins to transcend the generic character depictions. She has room to develop into perhaps another play or form somewhere else – her storyline is rich with possibilities.

We close on an open note where each character has ended up in a new state of mind, where new opportunities and choices become tangible. Fading out on an open ending leaves us wanting more resolve, more character development – perhaps the development ran out of time? But for now we are left to ponder the consequences several characters suffer as a result of their actions.

The loud cackling of some young bucks in the back row throughout made me think – where are the rest of these guys? Thirsty could really do with a Snapchat, Facebook, Instagram, high-school panui/notice plug out there! Hard. It’s just the kind of energetic, high-intensity hormone-fuelled kind of show that provokes and tickles the funny bone in teens, especially the Southsiders, and it’s a bonus that audience can relate to and revel in it even for a short while. A one-man schools tour could be in order. Why not?

Manuia fa'afetai lava. Fakaue lahi.

Thirsty runs from August 29 – September 2 at The Basement. Tickets available here.

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The Pantograph Punch publishes urgent and vital cultural commentary by the most exciting new voices in Aotearoa.

The Pantograph Punch publishes urgent and vital cultural commentary by the most exciting new voices in Aotearoa.

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