NZ Fringe Festival 2013
at Meow, Edward St CBD, Wellington
From 2 Mar 2013 to 5 Mar 2013
Reviewed by James McKinnon, 3 Mar 2013
Buddypalfriend investigates the concept (and experience) of the ‘Friend zone', defined by Wikipedia as “a platonic relationship wherein one person wishes to enter into a romantic relationship, while the other does not.”
Like Wikipedia, this show assumes that the term is gender inclusive, although in practice the term is usually used by a self-described ‘nice guy' to imply that a woman is evil or sadistic because she won't put out even though he picked up the tab at the Oriental Kingdom – which, as many women have pointed out, does not make you a ‘nice guy', but rather a whiny, entitled ‘dirtbag'.
This play, however, mostly refrains from making such judgements, and investigates the topic from a more objective point of view.
The dispassionate perspective is established by framing the play as a quasi-medical demonstration, which is to say that it begins with a guy in a white lab coat welcoming us to a ‘seminar', thus transforming us from a group of patrons at Meow into a group of… fellow scienticians? Curious onlookers? Registered delegates at a Nice Guy convention?
The purpose or context of the framing device is never quite certain. When Generic Science Guy probes the audience, Michael Hebenton gets the ball rolling, and he does an impressive job of keeping it rolling throughout the show, which might otherwise be overwhelmed by the ambient noises of the bar staff, patrons outside on the patio, and so forth.
Pubs and bars work well for cabaret and comedy acts, but they make perilous venues for theatre because it feels almost oppressive to have to sit and listen politely in a place where we normally go to be loud and obnoxious. The performers try to manage our restlessness with a few semi-participatory elements, but they don't trust the spectators enough to let them contribute in a meaningful way. If you're pulled up on stage, you won't be abused, but you won't be much be used, either.
The play mostly comprises a series of vignettes drawn from life. One actor will describe a situation (or, donning the Lab Coat, act as a detached observer) while the others re-enact it. The observations arising from the (often hilarious) vignettes fuel various theories about the nature of the ‘friend zone', and many of the observations will seem accurate. Whatever we might think of the term ‘friend zone', we've all been there, probably several times.
The basic idea of role-swapping is a solid convention, but the execution could be crisper and more polished: if you're using the Lab Coat to indicate a role, use it consistently!
The ‘friend zone' yields lots of dramatic situations: unrequited love is a classic subject. The play itself, however, though amusing, clever, and sometimes painfully accurate, is not very dramatic, because the raw material – mostly based on real-life stories, I assume – mostly consists of clever dialogue and narration, not action.
The material is great, but it hasn't been fully crafted into theatrical form. It could be a wicked comedy act, or a painfully funny play, but it isn't quite either.
Ironically, this show about an awkward place to be stuck ends up stuck in an awkward place itself, between comedy cabaret and theatrical performance. You'll like it a lot, maybe enough to let it steal an awkward kiss, but not enough to go all the way.
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