About twenty-something-odd-years ago, I was a fresh transplant from Taiwan to the distant shores of … well, the North Shore of Auckland. Considering the darn place is as peak-white-suburbia as possible (sans St. Heliers, let’s be honest here), somehow my folks managed to land a home amidst state housing, gang territory, and a whole lotta brown people. Which is to say, I integrated straight into the middle of Māori and Pacific culture for my primary school days.
That’s the short explanation of how I received the minimalist amount of racial prejudice and profiling as I could possibly have growing up in 90’s Auckland. There, you were just you, and it doesn’t matter what you look like on the outside, as it’s the inside that counts. Sure, I embraced my own culture and all, but I’m like the bastard child of a banana and a kiwifruit with a dash of pork-and-chive dumpling thrown in. Yellow on the outside, pretty Kiwi on the inside, and possibly the greatest snack food of all time (fight me).
By the time I became an adult, the hordes of immigrants from the Chinese mainland hadn’t quite reach peak saturation – us Chinese Asians were mostly known for keeping our heads down, working hard, and terrible Chinglish. Jokes were had about bad drivers and slanty-eyes, but those were kind of negligible, just things you learnt to ignore. You get so used to it sometimes it takes a friend or bystander to point out the inherent racism, as often one just doesn’t hear them anymore. It just doesn’t “click”.
Which is a strange thing to point out, honestly, in this day and age of racial tensions and anxieties. What with the situation in the States, the refugee crisis in Europe, and now good ol’ Taika deviating from the party rhetoric, something I thought I had stored away long ago into the attic of “never-touch-again” is rearing its head. Don’t get me wrong, I’m in support of what’s going on, but it’s a bit of a surprise we’re only finally having this talk.
Which is kind of where WEiRdO came in. Timely as it is poignant, the comedy musical, directed by Chinese-Pakeha Jane Yonge, delves into themes of equal opportunity, workplace jealousy, both overt and subtle racism, and importantly, confronting yourself. Funnily, the show speaks truth to racism the way it does as done by Reddit trolls – slightly larger-than-life, slightly less nuanced and more in-your-face, and a shit ton darker than reality. Or is it? I wouldn’t know, I guess.
It’s got plenty of laughs – just because it’s a dark comedy on racism doesn’t mean there’s any less of the comedy – and at a run time of just an hour long, it manages to be concise and to the point with the story it tells and the message it wants to deliver. Brought to life by the duo of Waylon Edwards and William Duignan, they succeed in conversing about stereotypes through both mannerisms and dialogue. Yet it’s often the “subtle” parts of interaction between the two characters which spoke the loudest. Maybe some parts of it are slightly too on the nose, but then, with a crowd like us jaffas you kind of have to bash it in a little.
Towards the end there is a monologue delivered entirely in Te reo. To claim it as emotionally charged is to say the friggin Hindenburg had an accident with fire. I don’t speak Te reo, but I didn’t need to. With the whole symphony of emotions that were evident in both the face and voice of Edwards, it became difficult to separate the actor from the character. There’s something intrinsically fantastical when you forget you’re watching theatre, and become part of the emotional experience.
There are questions to be asked, surely. WEiRdO gives those questions a good crack, and considering the entire setting of the show is of two employees from the Department of Lifestyle Encouragement (D.O.L.E.) jostling for promotion, it’s kind of obvious the line the comedy has taken. Maybe some people will have objections to how much of a blunt instrument it might be, but some times we just need to chuck precision out the window.
Go take a look. Make your mind up for yourself. It’ll be worth it, I promise. They’ll be at the Basement all week.