Agokwe sounds like a good idea on paper. The Kent Monkman-esque promo pics featuring the play’s writer/performer, Waatwaate Fobister, glammed up like a cross between “Half Breed”-era Cher and St. Sebastian (Seb’s basically Gay Jesus, for those who aren’t in the club) are certainly eye-catching, if a tad cheesy, and seem to suggest a camp and tongue-in-cheek exploration of two-spirited sexuality. And camp we certainly get. Fobister, who plays all the characters in his “gay love on the rez” tragedy, flits about the stage as a beyond-swishy Nanabush (an Ojibwe trickster spirit), sometimes telling the story of star-crossed Jakey and Mikey, Agokwe‘s protagonists, sometimes delivering speeches about how queer-tolerant First Nations societies used to be, and sometimes asking people in the audience to touch his asshole. But rather than a thoughtful or eye-opening look at homophobia in First Nations communities, Agokwe never really rises above the level of After-School Special.
Jakey is femmy loner Native kid who excels at traditional dancing and not much else. Mikey is a butch hockey star from a neighbouring reservation who regularly autographs dozens of breasts after each game (for real). Most of the play is a “will they/won’t they” plot made complicated by their would-be girlfriends, Goose and Cheyenne, and Mikey’s alchie-mom. The plot is paper-thin, with moments of genuine humour and cuteness, not to mention some interesting facts about two spirited sexuality. The rushed and terribly cliché ending, however, is an absolute cop-out; do we really need another gay love story that ends in pointless death? The design of the show is gorgeous. Andy Moro’s sets and Erika Iserhoff’s costumes are absolutely top-notch; they belong in a better show. Director Ed Roy would have been wise to tone down some of the special effects, though. Blinding white lights really only need to flash at the audience once a performance, and the fog machine was used so frequently you started to wonder if it was broken. All that aside, these kinds of shows really rely on the ability of the performer to create completely different personae onstage, which Fobister never really accomplishes. None of the characters stray too far from the Nanabush narrator we meet in the first scene, who one imagines probably doesn’t stray too far from Fobister. The show began as a monologue Fobister performed at QueerCab and developed through the Young Creators Unit, venues in which it probably shone brightly. But as the season opener of a major independent theatre, Agokwe just isn’t quite there yet.
Agokwe plays at Buddies until October 12.