Originally developed and produced at Toronto’s respected Buddies in Bad Times Theatre in 2008, Agokwe is the winner of 6 Dora awards and makes its Montreal debut at Scènes contemporaines La Chapelle, playing until April 15th.
“Not everyone has a nice big happy family. Know why? Because humans are stupid,” snarls the trickster narrator Nanabush — one of many in the array of quirky characters portrayed by playwright and performer Waawaate Fobister in this semi-autobiographical one-man show. Donning Thunderbird drag and a contemptuous smirk, the Raven-headed and boldfaced Ojibwa storyteller tells the tale of two aboriginal queer teens Mike, the closeted star hockey player from a neighbouring reserve, and Jake, the out and proud grass dancer. What occurs when their manifested desires are met with oppression, however, is a tragic tale of unrequited love.
In a courageous story of identity and expression, AGOKWE (pronounced “agoo-kway”) is here both title and theme. Meaning “two-spirited” in the Anishinaabe language, the Agokwe are known to be the gifted few who harbour both the male and female presence within. Once revered by traditional aboriginal communities for their balanced nature, however, they have come to be ostracized under contemporary gay stigma.
As the two young men Mike and Jake eventually meet and come to bashfully confess their mutual infatuation, any attempt of romance is intervened by discriminatory peer pressure – including that exerted by Jake’s provocative cousin, Goose, and Cheyenne, the girl matched to Jake by Goose in hopes of saving his reputation. Furthermore, as Mike crumbles under the wing of his recovering alcoholic of a mother and struggles to fully express and embrace his orientation under the threat of public humiliation, history repeats itself in a plea for tolerance and action.
Under the direction of Ed Roy, Fobister’s action is held front and centre stage throughout for an intimate and focused narrative. Effectively adding to the warm ambience of the piece are Andy Moro’s set and projection designs, Kim Purtel’s lighting, Erika Iserhoff’s costumes, Marc Merilainen’s original music, and Lyon Smith’s soundscape.
Told with intention, tongue-in-cheek humour, and earnestness, the play is commendable for bringing to the forefront discussions on homophobia, segregation, and teen bullying. Don’t miss “AGOKWE” by the Agokwe Collective / Waawaate Fobister, playing at the La Chapelle Theatre, 3700 Rue Saint Dominique until Friday, April 15th. Tickets are $25 – 30 and can be purchased online or by calling the La Chappelle Box Office at 514-843-7738.
Review by Montreal Theatre Hub Editor-in-Chief Camila Fitzgibbon