Basement Theatre, Lower Greys Ave, Auckland

25/10/2016 - 29/10/2016

Production Details

“A very cleverly formulated plot and through its humour it illuminates the issues we all talk about behind closed doors and in our little circle.” –Flo Samuela

Brown: It’s Complicated birthed out of frustration. Being Brown in a dominate white society has its downfalls. A Pacific Comedy and Drama show that has movement and dancing, along with Tongan, Samoan and English language. There will be live singing by trio group Manu’ofa Mahe, Siatuolo Alexandra Mareko and Pele Moses Maika, and percussion by Lalofau Andrew Tagaloa and Neville Niulesa.

Selu Iloahefaiva and Samuel Kamu [Actors in their Third and final year of Performing and Screen Arts at Unitec and recently completed Community Theatre with SMILE Ministry called Kingdom Challenges Directed by Lomoloma Teisi], share their difficulties with being Brown (Pacific Islanders) living in New Zealand, a dominant Western Culture.

Brown (Pacific Islanders) is very cultured; growing in society with completely different values. Questions are raised such as “why is it that Brown culture always seem to be pushed out and white values are pressed on us?” 

Directed by Antonia Stehlin who is a Graduate of Pacific Institute of Performing Arts and made her debut in The Passage (2010). Works she has done; Duffy Books in Homes (2010, 2011 &2016), LIMA Dance Theatre (2009-2012), Red Leap Theatre (2013-2014), Refiner’s Fire (2013-2014), AFAKASI (2015) and Co. Theatre Physical (2013-2016).

Basement Theatre; Lower Greys Avenue, Auckland 1010
Tuesday 25th Oct – Saturday 29th Oct 2016
$20 Adult
$18 Concession (Group 6+, Senior Citizen and Students)
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Clever show wraps wisdom in warmth #2

Review by Janet McAllister 27th Oct 2016

Brown: It’s Complicated is well-presented by emerging Pacific theatre practitioners and is surprising. Directed by Antonia Stehlin, the first half makes us feel welcome and comfortable; the second half is a useful shake-up offering ideas (such as the defence of the church) not usually seen within theatre’s white liberal enclaves. [More


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Significant issues for the nation, not just the theatre

Review by Hannah Stannard 27th Oct 2016

After a live overture of singers and musicians who set an easy listening, radio-style mood and homely backdrop, right away, the audience i invited to become part of the family. We are welcomed into the living room, introduced to ‘Mum’ and ‘Dad’, the kids, family photos, and a traditional meal of taro and K.F.C. After wrapping ourselves in traditional lavalava, we are fully prepared to handle the heart. This heart is deep, and in need of recognition and healing.

Selu Ilohefavia, and Sam Kamu single-handedly juggle all the characters of one whole (large Islander) family between them! They skillfully dart back and forth between Tongan mum, Samoan dad, and the range of siblings who’ve grown up in the cross-fire of Pacific diaspora and the pull between Pacific and Palagi cultures. There are times when I laugh uncontrollably, and times, as a Palagi, that I want to disappear under my lavalava out of sight, responsibility and some tense, confronting issues.

As we become more acquainted with the family, deeper stories of the past are revealed. The renaissance of Pacific identity that was founded upon the Christian gospel being brought to island shores is emphasised in the retelling of the Samoan and Tongan epic gospel stories. Put on the spot by his father, the youngest son nervously but proudly takes the stage to deliver these stories, between distracting glances at a cute girl in the audience.

The extremes between what is expressed on the surface, and the struggles dwelling below in daily life, are brought to light during powerful scenes of parent meetings with school teachers, and interactions in the workplace. The wounds inflicted by prejudice, cultural misunderstandings and expectations kept hidden are finally let loose in the safety of the family home. Two siblings battle with words and perspectives fueled with anger, hurt and defence: Pacific or Palagi? White or brown? Submission or seclusion? Assimilation or separation? To voice, or to swallow and repress…? It’s complicated. 

But the frustration goes deeper than just cultural differences. It touches on the eternal. In the heat of the moment, when the heart is uncovered, it is revealed that the white men who once brought hope and salvation, have now become luke-warm and materialistic… a disappointment in the brown eyes of those who used to revere and respect. It is revealed that the national anthem ‘God Defend New Zealand,’ was once seen as an incentive for the Pacific community to uproot and move, but now seen merely as hypocrisy. This show reveals the very real difficulty of replanting and finding the good soil; as grafting is clearly not working.

We are finally confronted by the earnest prayers of parents, pleading and seeking behind closed doors to answers and resolutions to these complicated issues.

It is indeed complicated. This show is worth seeing. It raises issues not just significant for the theatre, but also for the nation. 


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Brown: it’s not black and white

Review by Tameka Sowman 26th Oct 2016

This is one charged play not to be missed. 

Brown: It’s Complicated is certainly an example of what happens when you speak through the language of laughter, and feed the audience the cold hard truths while their mouths are open with joy. 

This is a conversation that has been trying to catch a blaze for too long, but I see a great wave of Oceanic voices gathering momentum and starting to break the dunes. Writer/director Antonia Stehlin is walking alongside other young Pacific sisters making waves including Grace Taylor, Jahra Wasasala and Hanelle Harris, to name a few. 

This conversation must extend and permeate beyond the bounds of our melanin counts. For this is not just a cultural conversation, it is a societal one. We also mustn’t forget that the colonisers of our lands and people were destroying their own cultures and misconstruing their own traditions hundreds of years before they reached our shores.

Stehlin threads considered controversial topics with bold statements and illuminates the honest truth of many a shared story, which has the potential to hit home hard, if you are willing to look in the mirror or seek answers to “…the what’s and the why’s” of cultural misunderstandings.

We are welcomed into the space by beautiful melodic voices (of Manu’ofa Mahe, Siatuolo Alexandra Mareko and Pele Moses Maika, and percussion by Lalofau Andrew Tagaloa and Neville Niulesa) reminiscent of a good ole Island jam and the radio remixes that blast through all island communities. We are soon greeted by the family in all their glorious complexities, and are given a short respect protocol rundown, before the audience is on their feet learning how to correctly tie an ‘ie’, and formally enter the family home.

Selu Iloahefaiva and Samuel Kamu charmingly navigate the characterisation of multiple family members, giving us insights into the dynamics of this Pacific Island family, from the innocent and blissful naivety of youth, through to an older generation who carry the weight of their ancestors’ stories on their shoulders (and in their hearts).

Snippets of short stories are physicalised in the form of vignettes and are threaded throughout the piece. Each exposes a different experience or response to a cross-cultural engagement, with moments that generously invite us into the emotional heart of these misunderstandings and how difficult it is to navigate, let alone ‘break’, an embedded stereotype. The questions raised include: How much must one give in or give up to really fit in? What is respect today? Is it really a symbiotic and reciprocated notion? 

With our imaginary bellies full, we are bid a gracious farewell from the party and our ‘dropped fourth wall’ privileges are revoked. Our ticket to dulcet harmony and jandal humour is quickly exchanged for a blunt reality check and our place is now the fly (or gecko) on the wall.

The exoticism and joyousness that Pacific Islanders are stereotypically known for quickly dissipates as the results of years of ever-present racial profiling, pigeon-holing, assumptions and micro-aggressions (to name a few heavy hitters) reveal what bottled guttural pain can manifest into. Sometimes someone just needs to shout it out loud for others to hear. The people of Oceania are a very staunch yet stoic people. 

I feel the raw anger in the hearts of all those giving life to this story; an anger so close to tears it often can’t help but find itself funny: a default habit that society tends to better know Pacific people for. The emotional balance is so finely walked that the final images are heartbreaking, as pained silent tears roll down coloured cheeks on stage and in the audience.

The sustained argument is loaded with deep, honest feeling. Granted, it needs a few more colours and builds to sustain it performatively, yet where a few interjected vignettes deflate the builds, the emotionally driven points that I am all too familiar with hold me at full attention. I am reminded of Anne Bogart’s work on view points, particularly the notions of time and duration which, when sustained, demand the audience invest and sit in such provocative thoughts. 

There are many different conventions employed in this work, which is commendable in moments but leads to confusion in others. Most theatrical devices utilised are accessible to many but at times the level of stage craft needed to advance the story and the technical sophistication needed to execute the multiple character transitions lack clarity, precision and detail. There are many great movement phrases to note – the ‘Flight of the Bumblebee’ sequence certainly amplifies the internal dialogues of the characters – but again, in order for the work to hit the next level, I would like to see the physical movement refined throughout the entirety of the piece.

The utilisation of the people as portraits creates some beautiful complimentary images, but I feel this convention is under-explored. For when there is the opportunity to create some powerful, yet simple juxtaposition to the unfurling arguments before us, the chorus of framed faces awkwardly exits the stage, only returning at the very end to sing.

The execution of the lighting is often pretty messy, and at times it doesn’t feel like a conscious layer accompanying the development of the story, which may come down to an absence of live cohesion between stage and technical box.  However the use of motif colours, reflective of the Samoan flag and perhaps colonialism, are a commendable layer of detail. Blue being the colour of ‘Freedom’ and red that of ‘Courage’, both are very weighted hues throughout the Pacific.

It is always beautiful to see Pacific faces at the theatre. May theatrical spaces continue to grow as an inviting place for all ethnicities to unite at and converse over the ever-changing landscape of the topics that are placed centre stage.  

Our experiences may be of different colours but the essence of each is threaded into the same mat/ fala/ cloth, one that is traditionally passed down through generations. But the condition of that taonga, every time it changes hands, and how it wears over time, is up to us.

Be sure to catch this provocative insight into navigating the Kiwi-Pacific life. Being brown is not black and white: it certainly demands a much bigger conversation. 


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