Honouring Theatre: Frangipani Perfume – dynamic and fragrant theatre for the mind

Honouring Theatre:  Frangipani Perfume
– dynamic and fragrant theatre for the mind


Firehall Arts Centre
October 13 to October 21st

Frangipani is known as the traditional Hawaiian lei flower.  Frangipani Perfume
is a dynamic three woman play that tells the story of three sisters who
left their native island of Samoa to find a better life in New
Zealand.  The play opens with three woman dancing to a beautiful
musical piece of opera, only to reveal that they are actually scrubbing
washrooms in New Zealand to make ends meet.

This is a play that I found astounding.  It works on many levels.

  It is not the didactic memory play style of  Windmill
Baby
, nor the linear time line of the historically interpretative
Annie Mae's
Movement

each part of the tri-national tour of 3 plays from Canada, Australia
and New Zealand – titled Honouring Theatre.  Frangipani Perfume is an exceptionally creative
work that incorporates dance, drama, martial arts, comedy, memory, and
so much more.  There were many times that I have to admit I said
to myself “Wow!” or “What did they just do?”

Actors Dianna Fuemanna, Fiona Collins and Joy Vaele, together give an
incredibly dynamic performance.  The sisters dance together, they
fight against each other, they support each other, they argue with each
other, and they reveal truths for and about each other.  The
transitions and topic flow smoothly.  Just as easily as the actors
themselves move across the floor, climb to stand on their chairs,
threateningly fight each other or hold each other lovingly. 

Anything seems to be able to happen in this play.  One moment they
are discussing boyfriends and marriage to escape the drudgery of
scrubbing toilets and cleanning skid marks off the tile floors, the
next they are literally flying across the stage floor, or dreamily
recalling the fragrance of frangipani perfume which their mother used
to make back on the island of Samoa.

And yet… social commentary fills the content of this play. 
Thousands of Pacific islanders left their island homes to work in New
Zealand as unskilled labourers.  They deal with the conflict of
traditional island life and values pitted against contemporary morals
and behaviors.  Post-modern sexuality threatens church morality
and values.  Margaret Mead's anthropological views are rebuffed by
native attitudes of knowingness.   Somehow the greatness of
Einstein and the terror of nuclear war find their way into the
balance.  And it all works brilliantly.  Kudos to playwright
Makerita Urale for her imagination and daring. 

I was able to speak with the actors after the performance, and they
were wonderfully friendly.  They shared that they were enjoying
the visit to Vancouver after travelling across Canada, but were really
looking forward to going home soon, as this is the last stop of the
Canadian tour, before remounting for Australia and New Zealand in
2007.  They each spoke enthusiastically about being on this
tri-national, three play tour, and watching the other
performances.  We talked about the issue of including Pacific
Islanders into Asian Heritage Month (as is done in the United States)
and the fact that Pacific Islanders have their own identity and
culture.  I shared my experience of learning Pacific Island
culture in my visits to Hawaii, where my Aunt lived, and how I remember
her teaching me one day to make a Hawaiian style frangipani / plumaria
flower lei.

My companion had said that she smelled something fragrant at the start
of the play when the actors took the stage.  Yes… the actors
revealed.  They are wearing frangipani fragrance in their hair.  We
talked about the frangipani / plumeria flower, and how it is also known
as the “lei flower” in Hawaii.  Definitely a play that hits on all
the senses including the mind and the nose…  very rare and
fragrant indeed.

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