Feb 11, 2015 Theatre
Directed by Anapela Polataivao and Vela Manusaute
February 9, 2014
While the Auckland Fringe officially opens tonight, The Basement has already started squeezing in some Fringe shows into their venue. Squeeze feels like a good to describe this Fringe. Due to a health and safety curveball (now rectified), The Basement have had to squeeze all their shows onto just the one stage. They’ll be busy 7 days a week, 5:30pm to midnight. On Monday night, we were squeezed into the sold out performance of Victor Rodger’s Girl on a Corner. After Rodger’s Black Faggot stormed the last Fringe two years ago, Girl on a Corner is one of the most hotly anticipated shows in the Fringe and Pride Festival season.
The Girl on the Corner is Shalimar, infamous as the fa’afafine prostitute Eddie Murphy picked up on Santa Monica Boulevard in 1995. Originally from American Samoa, she fell from her apartment balcony a year later. Two obvious dramatic questions occur. How did she end up as a sex worker? And what hubris drives Eddie Murphy (who has said he was just driving her home) to cruise for prostitutes? Rodger is not interested in either of these questions.
He teases our prurient interests – we have come for the Eddie Murphy scandal and as paying customers want to get our money’s worth (and why not, it’s been a clear marketing angle). Rodger resists and delays this sort of Herald on Sunday sensationalism. “There’s more to my story than some Beverly Hills Cock” Shalimar (Amanaki Prescott) asserts.
And what a story! As she says, it has it all. Sex, tragedy, action, mystery, LA dreams. Shalimar does not tell her story in straight lines, but tries out multiple takes and alternate-alternate endings. She’s like an auter director in the editing room who can’t make up their mind about what tone the story should be. Tragedy? Morality Play? Dark Comedy? Romance? Shalimar imagines a Hollywood love affair with Murphy which culminates in a smattering of pre-emptive audience. She dismisses it as too cheesy, and tries a different option.
Prescott is an utterly charismatic performer. She’s joined by a superb cast of Aleni Tufuga, Joanna Toloa, Hans Masoe, Gabriel Halatoa, Sandy Vukalokalo and Taufa Fisiinaua. They wait, leaning slyly on the Basement back wall, until it’s their time to perform. Fisiinaua makes Murphy’s trademark guffaw eerie, and it is his re-enactment of Murphy’s own homophobic stand-up that ultimately damns his character.
Directors Anapela Polataivao and Vela Manusaute keep the action fluid with bursts of lively song and snappy movement. It’s rather luxurious to have such a 6-strong ensemble play multiple characters, and sometimes their use is too leisurely. They need to work harder. If this play tours, I imagine reducing their number would improve the production. Prescott is often required to stand and deliver her story, but the play works best when the actors are moving and feeding in their energy. That old easy gag of the narrator reporting dialogue, then having a scene repeat that same dialogue, doesn’t work and needs to go.
There’s some fascinating intersections of gender, Samoan culture, and Hollywood excess which makes this a tantalising play and it’s clear this is where Rodger’s attraction to the story lies. I don’t feel I know much more about Shalimar at the end of the story. Rodger can only speculate about her, and his speculation cannot reach any firm conclusion. He falls into the trap too, despite declarations to the contrary, of getting stuck on the Eddie Murphy incident. The character gives us multiple versions of herself, but if we’re looking for a core we can’t find one. Rodger’s subject keeps escaping around the corner.
Girl on the Corner is a very good start to the Auckland Fringe (and an excellent addition to the Pride Festival, also on now) – a teasing and intriguing exploration of a life lived on the fringe. Make sure you check out the schedule and see how much theatre you can squeeze into each night.
To February 14.