MY NAME IS GARY COOPER
BATS Theatre, The Propeller Stage, 1 Kent Tce, Wellington
21/08/2018 - 25/08/2018
In My Name is Gary Cooper, Victor Rodger returns to the subject of fathers and sons.
“A heart-wrenching story of sex, lies and photographs. Erotic, hilarious yet tragic, it’s a risqué tale of family betrayal and sexual retribution.” – Sian Robertson, Theatreview, 2007.
In juxtaposing the world of the Pacific with white America, My Name is Gary Cooper upturns Hollywood stereotypes of the Pacific – theatre of war or romantic fantasy – where Pacific Island characters are confined to supporting roles.
Here the perspective is that of the brown, abandoned son. Gary Cooper crosses oceans to find himself a guest in the ‘White’s home’. Being the token Samoan and ‘the brownest man in Hollywood’ he starts fulfilling a long kept dream. Much like the mark actor Gary Cooper left on cinema, the effect this Gary Cooper has on this L.A. family is indelible.
Catch both of these Whitireia student graduation pieces for less with the Victor Rodger Season Pass. Buy yours now for only $30 full and $26 concession.
BATS THEATRE The Propeller Stage
21 – 25 August
Te Whaea Student Standby $5
Full Price $20 | Concession Price $15
Group 6+ $14 | Child Aged 12 or Under $10
Student Night Wednesday $10
The Propeller Stage is fully wheelchair accessible; please contact the BATS Box Office by 4.30pm on the show day if you have accessibility requirements so that the appropriate arrangements can be made. Read more about accessibility at BATS.
Cast: John Ulu, Hannah Neville, Aishani Pole, Ethan Kai-Robson, Kaitlyn Weaver, Mariarangi Carkeek, Sela Poufa, Christopeher King
Superbly crafted play and production
Review by John Smythe 22nd Aug 2018
This second production in Te Auaha’s Victor Rodger Season is a superbly realised companion piece to last week’s Sons. Written 12 years later, My Name is Gary Cooper also features a young adult ‘afakasi’ son seeking out his absentee father, only this time his mother is Samoan and his father is palagi – from Hollywood.
The Samoan Gary Cooper is a legacy of the film Return to Paradise starring the more famous Gary Cooper, shot on location at Lefaga Beach in the early 1950s. At 21 he takes off to Los Angeles to seek out the father who has no idea he exists, charms his way into his Hollywood family and slowly but surely wreaks havoc.
The concept of ‘Paradise’ is central and the exotic myths of Pacific island and Tinseltown are satirically juxtaposed. While Hollywood was in the habit of romanticising the Pacific Islands, and a common dream of youth in the colonies was to find fame and wealth in Hollywood, My Name is Gary Cooper challenges both mythologies dramatically and humorously.
By setting his play in Samoa from the 1950s to the 1970s, Los Angeles in 1973 and Auckland in 2000, Rodger requires the actor playing Gary to embody a range from very young to his late 40s – and John Ulu rises to the challenge with astonishing ease, simply ‘being’ each age without overtly ‘acting’ it. Gary’s journey is the heart and soul of the play, and Ulu makes it utterly compelling, commanding our empathy even as we gulp wise-eyed at some of his actions.
Likewise Mariarangi Carkeek, playing Gary’s mother Teuila, and Sela-Emily Fiu-Poufa as ‘Paradise-promising’ prostitute Salamoana, span a couple of decades with total conviction. Both are very emotionally complex roles that are riveting in the playing.
It would be easy for the White family in Hollywood to be lampooned. Indeed they are archetypal characters. Connie (Hannah Maison) is the failed actress wife/mother who drinks too much. Jennifer (Kaitlyn Weaver) is the outrageously precocious brat daughter. Joel (Ethan Kai-Robson) is the gay son necessarily being circumspect about it. But the father, Nick (Christopher King), is simply a hard-working stills photographer trying to cope – and, when Gary turns up with nowhere to sleep, happy to return the hospitality he enjoyed so much back in Samoa; a nice guy with no big ego or hidden agendas. All four make their characters very real.
So, too, does Aishani Pole as the enigmatically named T who meets Gary at a fundraising screening of Return to Paradise in Auckland. As a UCLA student doing a thesis on Polynesian representation in cinema, she gets to articulate the crucial socio-political commentary while confessing a love for the genre – then delivers a splendid dramatic twist which makes us rethink the whole play in a new light.
My Name is Gary Cooper is a superbly crafted play and director Tess Jamieson-Karaha does it proud, ensuring every actor totally owns their role, keeping the action flowing seamlessly through all time-frames and investing it all with her own sure sense of comic timing.
My only gripe is that the prop cameras are the kind children were given and nothing like what a professional photographer would use in the 50s or 70s.
Full credit must go the Te Auaha Institute of Creativity for mounting this Victor Rodger Season of two excellent plays, professionally produced with casts who claim their roles to such an extent it is hard to imagine anyone else as them.
I’m amazed that it has taken over a decade for My Name is Gary Cooper to be produced in Wellington. Grab the chance to see it this week.
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