His Mother's Son

Maidment Theatre - Musgrove Studio, Auckland

17/06/2007 - 17/06/2007

BATS Theatre, Wellington

24/01/2007 - 03/02/2007

Production Details

by Leilani Unasa
directed by Katrina Chandra


What happens when you just can’t get a drink in hospital? A grown man who doesn’t recognise his own mother, a mother who fails to recognise that her young son is a man and one hell of a scary nurse!

All in all, a hotbed of confusion, drama, tears and laughter!

His Mother’s Son is a comic and sometimes serious look at how the mothers and sons of the Siaosi family cope with being just that – ‘family’.

Tasi lies sick in hospital suffering delusions partly from his illness and partly from being sober for the first time in years. With no-one coming to visit him, Tasi is forced to see the impact he’s made on his family’s lives and how they really feel about him.

Writer Leilani Unasa says ‘Most families are dysfunctional in some way. It’s fun to laugh at other peoples crazy families and I want to continue this fine tradition’. Behind the laughs and drama though is a feeling of hope. ‘I want the audience to come away with the belief that nothing is too big to fix no matter how mad your family is’.

His Mother’s Son is the second outing for Chickenhead Productions and follows the success of the 2003 Wellington Fringe Festival hit Tautala. Kylie Brown (Producer) and Leilani Unasa (Writer/Producer) of Chickenhead are committed to presenting quality work on stage that gives voice to Māori and Pacific stories. Respected theatre director, Katrina Chandra directs His Mother’s Son and the cast includes some of New Zealand’s hottest emerging and established talent.

Fiona Truelove, Aleni Tufuga, Helen Jones and Shadon Meredith.

Auckland cast:
Dianna Fuemana, Aleni Tufuga, Helen Jones and Jonathan Riley

Theatre ,

What happens in a drinking house

Review by Diane Spodarek 22nd Jun 2007

Not just another dysfunctional family story, His Mother’s Son is a powerful theatrical experience of the consequences of a father’s drinking. And it’s funny. We laugh because the acting is so good, the direction is unpredictable and multi layered, and the story is true to life. A well-crafted and clever set design by Peter King provides changing locations for past, present and future scenarios with a fast-paced, tight direction by Katrina Chandra. We witness this family’s history: the first flirtation of the mother and father; the birth of a wanted son; the son doing his homework in his room and later drinking there; mother and son moments; and father and son confrontations with other domestic events in this family of three. [Read more]


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Humorous, intelligent and moving

Review by Sian Robertson 14th Jun 2007

In Auckland for its second season, shortly after premiering at Wellington Fringe Festival, Leilani Unasa’s second play, His Mother’s Son is fresh, punchy theatre, propelled by a talented cast and crew.

The play opens with Tasi Siaosi, waking in what seems to be a hospital bed, attended by Sita, who seems to be a nurse. Flashbacks and fantasies prompt us to ask what Tasi’s doing there, what actually happened, and which of his reminiscences are based on fact and which are pure fantasy. There are a lot of unanswered questions.

Lying confused and disoriented in his hospital bed, Tasi confides in his bedside companion the major events in his life – especially his estranged relationships with his wife and son. Through an alcoholic’s hazy specs, Tasi reminisces about his marriage to palangi wife Rachael (played by Helen Jones), and about their son Steven, whose delinquent tendencies suggest he’ll follow in his father’s drunken footsteps.

The beatific Sita (Dianna Fuemana) keeps reappearing at Tasi’s side to listen to his reminiscences, fabrications, regrets and denials, and nebulously avoids his pertinent questions such as why hasn’t his wife visited and what’s he doing here, anyway, and when can he get a drink?

The setting moves between Tasi’s hospital bed, flashbacks of each character’s versions of what happened, and Rachel’s struggling relationship with her son as she tries to support him through troubled times: first having to deal with Dad the drunk, and then with not having his father around.

Tasi himself (Aleni Tufuga) is still coming to terms with his own separation: his 15-year-old mother gave him up when he was a baby. Is he his mother’s son?

The non-chronological structure works beautifully, in that we are told only what we need to know as each character’s story unfolds, and have to piece it all together as they have.

His Mother’s Son could have been a depressing story of domestic meltdown, but instead sums up with an air of quiet triumph, in spite of its harsh realities.

Although it features a cross-cultural family, cultural stereotypes are not what Unasa’s play is about. Refreshingly, it’s a universal tale of life and death, love and family, issues of perception and communication, told with freshness and daring. It does little to explore the characters’ background – for example, Rachael (Helen Jones) is given no context other than that she’s a nurse, she’s Tasi’s wife and Steven’s mother, yet we still get a strong sense of her, through the joys and heartache of being a mother and wife.

With a skilful blend of humour and tragedy, Unasa has teased a touching humanity from her characters – also thanks to Katrina Chandra’s capable and sensitive direction.

All the cast deliver solid performances, making the squally conflict between the four headstrong characters a vivid portrayal of family tensions. Jonathan Riley convincingly plays Tasi’s teenage son, Steven, with a heady mixture of anger and apathy.

This is definitely one to see: a humorous, intelligent and moving piece from some up-and-coming and established talent.


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Emotionally charged

Review by Lynn Freeman 31st Jan 2007

How we see ourselves and how others see us – so often two very different, even conflicting, perspectives.

In Leilani Unasa’s play, Tasi believes himself to have been a loving husband, a caring father, a good man. The reality? He was a drunk, self-obsessed, lost soul who alienated those who loved him the most.

There are reasons for his actions, but do they excuse them – and is it ever too late to learn from your mistakes?

This is a thoughtful play. Aleni Tufuga plays Tasi with real conviction and charm, Helen Jones is sympathetic but no walkover as Rachel, his long suffering wife, Shadon Meredith captures teenage angst as their son Steven, and there’s Fiona Truelove’s endearing performance as Sita (sorry, can’t say too much about her part in the story without ruining it for you).

All four are called on to give emotionally demanding performances and they all step up to the mark. It’s powerful stuff, very honest, very moving.

In her playwright’s notes, Unasa mentions writing many drafts for the play, so it’s surprising that Rachel’s part is so underwritten. She pretty much disappears for the final quarter of the play, yet it’s as much her story as Tasi’s.

Katrina Chandra’s direction makes the most of her actors’ considerable talents and of Peter King’s smartly designed two level stage, which allows her to overcome the potential hazard of many scene changes.


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Entertaining and moving with subtly delivered denouement

Review by Michael Wray 30th Jan 2007

In a swift graduation, His Mother’s Son has moved from being a part of the Adam Play Reading Series to a professional debut at Bats in just seven months. This is not a rushed promotion; this play deserves its opportunity to be presented professionally.
The play opens with Tasi recovering in his hospital bed, being told that his heart is the cause of his medical problems. The programme notes have already told us this is the first time he has been sober in years and as he moves between reality and fantasy, we begin to learn that Tasi’s problems do indeed stem from his drinking. Tasi’s only real interaction is with his nurse, Sita, to whom he confides as he waits for his family to visit.

The play moves around exploring different aspects of Tasi’s situation. There are three main focal points, present day conversations between Tasi and his nurse, flashbacks to Tasi’s past and Tasi’s family coming to terms with their situation. It is a simple format and the three strands are gradually pulled together in a manner that is both entertaining and moving.

We meet Rachel, Tasi’s palagi wife, and Steven, their son. Life at home is far from perfect. Tasi and Rachel have problems, whilst Steven seems to be following his father’s example with the bottle. Ironically, given how Steven echoes his father, Tasi believes his problems with his son stem from Steven being just like his mother. When Tasi reveals to Sita that he never knew his own mother, the relevancy of the play’s title takes on a double-edge. Who is his mother’s son?

The set consists of two levels. At the rear is a wooden platform, on which Tasi’s hospital bed is placed. Here, we are always within the hospital. This clearly delineates the time periods. When Tasi comes down to the ground level at the forefront of the stage, we know we are to witness a re-enactment from his past, such as his courtship of Rachel. When Rachel and Steven inhabit the front stage alone, we know we are seeing present day events.

His Mother’s Son is a powerful, moving and sometimes funny play. It successfully treads the line between presenting comic moments with the serious impact of alcohol abuse, the way it can change a person and damage their relationship with family and children. The cast all live up to their roles admirably.

Shadon Meredith is convincing as the teenage son Steven, awkwardly coping with the breakdown of both his parents’ relationship and his father’s health. Similarly Helen Jones is commendable as Rachel, charting the path from love to bitterness, but refusing to play the victim.

Aleni Tufuga, as Tasi, is presented with the greatest range of performance. As we follow his descent into alcoholism, we swing between liking him, being amused by his energy and cheek, to pitying him and even disliking him.

The most enigmatic performance comes from Fiona Truelove. Her portrayal of the nurse is subtle and questioning. Nothing is given away prematurely. When the denouement is ultimately delivered, it does not feel telegraphed. It arrives naturally and subtly.

Playwright Leilani Unasa is clearly one to watch. You do not want to miss this wonderful play.


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Delicate touches of light and dark

Review by Laurie Atkinson [Reproduced with permission of Fairfax Media] 29th Jan 2007

There is a remarkable confidence and sophistication in the writing, structure and mix of lightness and darkness in Leilani Unasa’s second play His Mother’s Son. It is a drama about a specific family, part Samoan, part Palangi, but though it is specific it is at the same time universal.

It begins with Tasi thrashing about in what appears to be a hospital bed while attended to by a mysterious figure who could be a nurse or a figment of Tasi’s fuddled alcoholic brain.

His estranged Palangi wife, Rachel, and their troubled teenage son, Steven, first appear to be characters in the drama that is going on in Tasi’s guilt-ridden ramblings. But as the play develops and the past and the present and reality and illusion merge we are allowed to probe into the lives of Rachel and Steven independently of Tasi’s point of view.

The play, which could easily have been yet another depressing family drama about disintegrating relationships, drunken outbursts and verbal and physical violence, is often funny (Steven’s sporting dreams, Tasi’s imagined eulogy at his own funeral) and always absolutely true.

Katrina Chandra has directed her fine cast with a delicate touch so that the numerous changes of mood, styles, time and place are never overdone and are always part of the whole; the final speech by Steven to his class at school, which so easily could have been sentimental, tear-jerking stuff is the speech of an embarrassed, awkward, adolescent struggling to express his real feelings, and in Shadon Meredith’s excellent performance you believe and feel every emotion.

No less impressive throughout are Aleni Tufuga as Tasi, Helen Jones as Rachel, and Fiona Truelove as the mysterious Sita.


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Intriguing, insightful and moving

Review by John Smythe 24th Jan 2007

Neatly crafted to engage us in each present moment while tantalising us with mysteries – what exactly has happened? when? why? who is the patient and who is his caregiver exactly …? – Leilani Unasa’s His Mother’s Son heralds a playwright to watch. This work is a great leap forward from her Tuatala, a less cohesive but valuable exercise in character and dialogue writing that played at the Bluenote Bar in the Fringe 2003.

In exploring three generations of family with the lightest of touches and a small cast of four, His Mother’s Son plays an elusive game with life and death, fantasy and reality, love and what gets in the way. At its heart it turns out to trace a young man’s journey through a troubled adolescence to his choice between coming good or going bad.

Given the temptation to see all
Pacifica and Māori works as alluding to core cultural values, it is important to note that this play is not an allegory. Cultural generalisations do not apply. It is this particular son who is saddled with these particular role models: his Samoan father, who was abandoned as a babe by his 15 year-old mother and alleviates each week of work by being a weekend drunk; his Palangi mother who has the wit to leave but angers her son in the process.

It is the play’s non-linear structure and its sense of humour that intensify our interest, add authenticity and flesh out the humanity, elevating what could have been a humdrum plot to theatrically engaging art. Director Katrina Chandra (also responsible for lights and sound) moves it deftly through its manifold transitions on Peter King’s spatially effective set design.

Also attributable to Chandra, I assume, is the unified way all the actors pitch their performances with great sensitivity to the play’s overall tone, hitting their tragic and comic notes with heartfelt emotional truth, be they playing out someone’s fantasy (e.g. tear-drenched eulogies) or a more objective reality (e.g. mum wanting son to turn the music down).

From the moment he wakes in what seems to be a hospital bed, through wannabe musings and questing memory to his last drunken hurrah, Aleni Tufuga charms, seduces, searches and self-destructs his way through the role of Tasi with extraordinarily well-judged skill.

As Rachel, the Palangi nurse who falls for him and bears him a son, Helen Jones makes great and delightful sense of a role that could be further explored in the writing, given the importance of her character to the outcome. (We learn nothing of her wider family background and could well see her more powerfully challenged, in the on-stage action, to confront the choices that reveal the strengths we currently assume by default.)

Their ‘at risk’ son, Steven, is played with revealing humour and insight by Shadon Meredith (about to start at Toi Whakaari). His winning ways have an edge of danger about them; his vulnerable moments bring mixed emotions: his own worst enemy or most likely saviour?

Beautifully realised by Fiona Truelove, Sita – Tasi’s nurse-cum-caregiver, or is she a compulsive visitor with nowhere else to go? – emerges as the most mysterious character. In no hurry to give the show away, Truelove’s Sita plays her role to great effect, happy to let her true identity become apparent in its own good time.

In essence: intriguing, insightful and moving.


Caren Rangi January 25th, 2007

Funny, sad, moving but not full of cliches - it's got it all - go see it NOW!!!!

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