— Waawaate Fobister
It’s great to have a new Canadian First Nations theatrical talent appear on the scene, even if the product is slightly over-hyped. Waawaate Frobister wrote and plays all the roles in Agokwe, the production from Toronto’s Buddies in Bad Times Theatre that won six Dora Awards, including best new play, best production, best male performance for Frobister, and best director for Edward Roy. Promoted as a gay aboriginal Romeo and Juliet, it’s a sweet, sad little play with excellent production values and a charming, if rough-edged, performance at its centre.
On a small stage that looks like a half-section of a globe, framed on either side by a beautiful screen which acts as a light-box for set designer Andy Moro’s handsome projections, Frobister first appears as Nanabush, the Trickster, who explains that, though once upon a time the agokwe, or two-spirited one—a man with a woman inside him—was a respected figure in the Anishnaabe community, today gay men have a much tougher time of it. The story he tells and enacts is an illustration.
Jake, a slightly effeminate boy, falls for local young hockey star Mike. Both boys work hard to hide the fact that they’re gay, but their sudden powerful attraction to each other makes it impossible— ultimately, with tragic results, although the tone of the play is largely comical. Fobister nicely individualizes the boys but is actually more effective in his incarnation of the female characters: Jake’s cousin Goose, a party-girl turned Windigo; her friend Cheyenne, who wants to lose her virginity to Jake; and Mike’s elderly alcoholic mother. Fobister has a breathy delivery that works nicely for the girls, though I worried at times that he was going to pass out from hyperventilating.
Along with the handsome set and projections, Kimberly Pertell’s lighting, Marc Marlainen’s original music and Erika Iserhoff’s versatile costume design come together under Roy’s confident direction to provide a slick canvas on which Frobister paints his funny-sad portrait of a community at war with itself.