Review: Agokwe (Buddies in Bad Times Theatre and The National Arts Centre)


Buddies in Bad Times Theatre in association with The National Arts Centre presents the return Toronto engagement of Waawaate Fobister’s poetic, inspiring and timely play, Agokwe.

In the past year the issues around bullying and gay teen suicide have come to a head in the mainstream media and great strides have been made in raising the profile of the issues of the GLBT community.

However, what’s still often missing from the conversation between the mainstream gay culture and the media are the voices of queer people of colour. The issues and experiences of the “gay community” are, more often than not, presented as a unified monolith and since the mainstream gay culture is predominantly a White culture, it rarely acknowledges the greater diversity within the community.

The issues and experiences of queer people of colour are diverse and often vastly different than those of the mainstream gay culture yet they are rarely given an opportunity to have a public voice. These minority groups within a minority group are often still invisible.

That is why a work like Agokwe is so important. It opens people up to the idea that there is more than one gay narrative and it’s validating and inspiring for queer people of colour to have a voice affirming that there is more to being gay than what the mainstream gay media would have you believe.

Agokwe is a one-man show written and performed by an incredibly talented young artist, Waawaate Fobister. For the Anishinaabe people, histories were imparted orally through storytelling and Waawaate Fobister is the perfect exponent of that tradition; he really elevates storytelling to a fine art.

Fobister first emerges, dancing in full regalia, as the spirit Nanabush, the trickster. This larger-than-life character is our narrator for the evening. Nanabush recounts a story of unrequited love between two teenage boys from neighboring reserves: Jake, a powwow grass dancer and Mike, a hockey player and consummate jock.

The story is, in turns, funny, deeply personal, thought provoking and tragic and is ultimately inspiring. Though the story is rooted in native culture it is surprisingly relatable, underscoring the fact that so much of the human experience is indeed universal.

Fobister himself embodies the entire array of characters; he is able to flesh out each individual character using nothing but shifts in posture and facial expression and by changing the intonation of his voice. Amazingly, he makes each individual character feel real.

The young performer is truly captivating as he deftly flits from character to character, the transitions happen seamlessly and in the blink of an eye. My friend and play-going companion for the evening, Rudy, once lived on a native reservation in Alberta and was taken aback at how authentic the accents and characterizations were.

Fobister also draws from his background in dance and infuses the performance with stylized movement that is flowing and organic, injecting the piece with energy and making it feel more dynamic.

The set, designed by Andy Moro, consists of a circular riser in the center of a dome, it is meant to evoke a wigwam and really accentuates the intimate quality of the story.

Agokwe is an inspiring and timely work. It is expertly performed and poetic in its simplicity. The tradition of storytelling was meant to impart a sense of history and one can only hope that stories like Agokwe continue to shape our collective narrative. Waawaate Fobister is a dynamic, engaging performer, and you owe it to yourself to listen to his story.

Details:

  • Buddies in Bad Times Theatre, 12 Alexander Street
  • Opens Thurs, May 5, Closes Sun, May 15
  • Shows Tues – Sat, 8pm, Sun 2:30pm
  • Tickets PWYC – $33 (full price list available online)
  • Box Office 416-975-8555
  • Tickets available online at totix.ca

Photo credit:

– Waawaate Fobister, Photo by David Hawe