My Name is Gary Cooper

Maidment Theatre, Auckland

20/09/2007 - 13/10/2007

Production Details

By Victor Rodger
Direction: Roy Ward


When Victor Rodger’s My Name is Gary Cooper was first performed during Auckland Theatre Company’s THE NEXT STAGE series in 2006, it caused a sensation – immediately being hailed by audiences as the most exciting new New Zealand work to emerge in decades.  Now, Auckland Theatre Company is thrilled to present the world premiere season of this daring ‘sex revenge’ drama at the Maidment Theatre from September 20 – October 13.

Wide shot – Samoa – 1952. Hollywood legend Gary Cooper sets the Island alight filming Return To Paradise “the great South Pacific adventure”.  Cut to – Los Angeles – 1973. A young Samoan man charms his way into the lives and hearts of a movie industry family. Close-up – Auckland – 2000. Hollywood cinema Avondale. A revival screening of Return To Paradise throws new light on a family cycle of betrayal and revenge.

Starring Robbie Magasiva in the boldest stage role of his career, My Name is Gary Cooper jumps time zones and cultural divides to challenge our gaudy Technicolor images of island life and Hollywood dreams. Erotic, funny and full of machete-sharp dialogue, one of our most daring contemporary playwrights offers a new insight into the steamy side of Paradise.  

“Victor Roger is on the cutting edge of New Zealand playwriting”, says Director Roy Ward.My Name is Gary Cooper is a unique and shockingly funny tale of sexual revenge that showcases some of New Zealand’s best Pacific Island and Palagi talents – this show is not to be missed.”  

An exceptional cast of established and emerging actors will join Magasiva on stage for this production.  From celebrated performers Jennifer Ward-Lealand (Decadence), Roy Snow (Some Girls), Anapela Polataivao (TVNZ’s The Market, Island Girls) and Goretti Chadwick (The Market, Frangipani Perfume); to up and coming talents Nora Aati, Liesha Ward Knox (The Bomb, Plenty) and Damien Harrison (The Tutor, Shortland Street).   

Christchurch-born Victor Rodger is a playwright of Samoan and Scottish descent.  His first play Sons won Chapman Tripp Awards for Best New Play and Best New Writer in 1998.  He is also the author of Cunning Stunts (1997) and Ranterstantrum (2002) which was part of the International New Zealand Festival of the Arts.  Since 2000 he has written for Shortland Street and also for Karaoke High.

Last year he was the Fulbright-Creative New Zealand Pacific Island Writer in Residence at the University of Hawaii, Honoulu where he worked on a film adaptation of Sons.  He is currently working on an adaptation of Witi Ihimaera’s novel The Uncle’s Story.

Auckland Theatre Company’s production of Victor Roger’s My Name is Gary Cooper will run at the Maidment Theatre from 20 September – 13 October. Book at the Maidment Theatre 09 308 2383 or online at 

Nora Aati, Goretti Chadwick, Damien Harrison, Robbie Magasiva, Anapela Polataivao, Roy Snow, Jennifer Ward-Lealand, Leisha Ward-Knox

Set Design: Mark McEntyre
Lighting Design: Phillip Dexter
Costume Design: Elizabeth Whiting
Composer/Sound Design: Marc Chesterman

Theatre ,

Sex, lies and photographs

Review by Sian Robertson 24th Sep 2007

It’s 2000 and Return To Paradise, a cheesy old 50s movie of ‘daring south seas adventure’, filmed in Samoa, is showing at the Hollywood cinema in Avondale, Auckland. At the screening are two afakasi Samoans – the loquacious LA-born T and an unassuming, wearied man – who engage in a casual conversation about home and family and the artificial way that island life is portrayed in film and tourism. Home is where the heart is. But what happens when you don’t know where that is?

My Name Is Gary Cooper is a heart-wrenching story of sex, lies and photographs. Erotic, hilarious yet tragic, it’s a risqué tale of family betrayal and sexual retribution, delving into the dangers of love, tenuous family connections, and the consequences of empty promises.

Now it’s 1973 and Gary Cooper (named, like many Samoan men of his generation, after the palagi star of Return To Paradise) is visiting LA for the first time. He shows up on the doorstep of a movie industry family, the Whites, seemingly at random, claiming to have come to LA to forge an acting career. He has another agenda, however, and plays on the competitiveness of the White family, one by one winning his way into their, um, hearts. The egotism, self-interest and thirst for recognition which plague this typical Hollywood family, aren’t entirely foreign to this, at first apparently naïve, young Samoan.

The story cross-cuts between a less-than-glamorous side of Samoan life in the 1950s-70s, the superficially sleek but undeniably fraught home of the White family in 1973, and Avondale’s rundown Hollywood cinema in 2000, where new light is shed on an old family secret.

With razor sharp dialogue and an unabashed storytelling style, Rogers balances an ability to take an amusing swing at stereotypes, whilst simultaneously pointing a telephoto lens at the social contexts at play; challenging the idea of an island ‘paradise’, where, like anywhere in the world, it’s only paradise if you have a return ticket and don’t have to tidy up after yourself.

The entire cast rise to the challenge, with stand-out performances from Robbie Magasiva as Gary Cooper and Jennifer Ward-Lealand, as the rather awful Connie White who, despite being a pretentious Hollywood has-been, still has something of the romantic left in her. Leisha Ward Knox is at home playing the flirty, precocious daughter, Jennifer.

The set, simple yet versatile, is especially effective with its three screens where images of the characters’ lives are projected. Nik White, the father, is a stills photographer, whose camera captures moments of truth that often go unnoticed by him in his own self-centredness. The camera is a key prop, translating various characters’ memories and perspectives as the snapshots are projected on the screens the moment they are taken, capturing forever the fleeting emotions of its subjects.


Michael Smythe September 29th, 2007

We saw 'My Name is Gary Cooper' on Thursday night and heartily endorse Sian's review - everything about it was well worth experiencing. I would go so far as to say it marks a maturity in Auckland (and New Zealand) theatre. Could this play, set in Samoa, Los Angeles and Avondale, with most of the characters speaking American and no New Zealand characters, only have been written by a New Zealander? It is an astute allegory that has left me reflecting for days on colonisation and globalisation through popular culture in a much more layered and empathetic way that my usual 'goodies and baddies' way. For New Zealand theatre this is a 'Coming of Age in Auckland' that demonstrates our ability to observe and comment on global issues from a usefully detached position. Everyone who cares about the trajectory of New Zealand theatre, or just wants to enjoy a damn good play, should see this production.

Jonathan Hardy September 25th, 2007

Ah Katurian Katurian Katurian. I actually agree with both of you in the sense the critics do seem to have some pretty odd ideas at times. However when a critic states their case and what they are looking for, it is easier to understand them. I am very attached to some of Tynan's crits and his essays on the thatre. Good to hear what point of view you are taking. For myself I don't find myself entertained by "showbiz" and therefore look to be taken somewhere by the playwrite. Certainly the three thng i saw recently in Auckland (well I was in one) asked me to exaine something and my reaction to each piece. I think the ATC is doing Cooper Hatch and the Pillowman are follwing a very good line. I saw only the workshop of Cooper so I cannot speak of it in full performance. All three took me into areas I felt worth bother of abandoning the TV especially with the world cup on. Do remember Katurian rose from the dead after being shot through head in a kneeling position.

Ms Katurian September 25th, 2007

The first of my comments was addressed to you, Imogen which was why I placed your name at the beginning, and the second comment was directed more to Jonathan. That's why I used two names, no ulterior motive. In response to your question, I wouldn't regard either approach as especially fruitful in themselves. A good critical response may sketch in content, context and also 'what happens', but that doesn't really tell me anything about the 'how'. They only serve as some kind of plot summary or historical lesson. It's the next level: the critical engagement, that uses those previous three elements as an informed underpinning, but then tells me something distinctive about it and draws me into it. If this is an especially distinctive piece, it gives me some ways to 'read' it. If it's incredibly distinctive, that writer helps pave the way for it.

Imogen Neale September 25th, 2007

I'm wondering - are you suggesting that my name isn't Imogen - or were you making a remark about the others? My name is Imogen - well, last time I checked - I was trying to be honest by using it as my name.. anywho. I woul dbe interested to know - what do you think is more important, or what do you value higher, when reading a review: that it tells you what happens and what the reviewer thinks of that OR that it explores some of its content - but not in great detail becasue you can read that from a press release - and more of it's context...?

Ms Katurian September 25th, 2007

Jonathan - no, I don't believe it does. An opinion is always much more useful if it's grounded in the fabric of the piece (which is not purely a literary critique, it's a performative engagement) and has something to say about it. While terminology might change in response to different audiences, good critical writing helps people see things in different ways - just as the performance does. It also helps them see things as they could be, which is again, where both good critical writing and performance can enlarge what's possible as opposed to reduce horizons until they're small enough to be comfortable.

Jonathan Hardy September 25th, 2007

Does all that not come down to your position in relation to the work. Are you a consumer or a practitioner. Yhere are several literary criques one can make and obviously there is the critique of acting.( Many teach and few understand) There seems also to be a crique of the quality of the event on that night. This of course also depends on what the audience brings. I sometimes find it hard to sort out the clever and ego shoving from the actual meat of the events. However when I saw Steve Sewell's "Myth Propaganda and lies in Nazi Germany and presnt day America, directed by a director I dont rate and with a couple of fairly ordinary actors, the event and the performance of Greg Stone brought me to my feet. It was in the event that the crummy parts became irrelevant, Of course Lindsay Kemp in Flowers or the recent Swan Lake in Aussie went further and left me speechless. Of course I base my critque on Lorca. thank you Dick Johnstone

John Smythe September 25th, 2007

Well said, Ms Katurian – and I think Sian does an excellent job of sharing the what, why and how of My Name Is Gary Cooper without giving too much of the show away (which is another thing we can be taken to task for). It is what she writes about how Victor Roger meets the challenge he has set himself, and how the ATC production manifests the result, that attests to the quality of the work. That’s how I read it anyway.

Ms. Katurian September 25th, 2007

Imogen - I'm certainly far from the camp of the person-with-the-million-pseudonyms. I've never actually understood, in many of their postings, what they actually want. But I don't think that you're drawing the right distinction: the primary issue in good critical writing shouldn't be about whether you praise or condemn it, but whether you're saying anything about it. Whether a critical response gushes or condemns, it does still have an obligation to engage with the 'how' of the piece. Critical engagement doesn't have to mean that you say it's bad. A good critical response still 'reads' a piece even if the writer unabashedly adores what they've seen/witnessed/absorbed. It's the lack of the 'how' that is often a problem in either condemnation or the praise, to my mind.

Imogen Neale September 24th, 2007

Curious that when someone really likes a play - more than likes, actually finds it teaches, reaches or achieves something for them – we question the review and reviewers authenticity. As if writing a review or being a reviewer necessitates at least some negative comments. I’ve certainly been to plays, movies, gigs that I had nothing but praise for. I’ve also been to some I couldn’t, even with my nice hat on, find anything positive to say. As a reviewer, I’m always mindful of whether I’m gushing or dissing too much – even if gushing is what I want to do. Why? Because I’d hate to be accused of re-hashing a press release. One; because it would mean I was being accused of being lazy, two; because it would mean I was being accused of having no ethics and three; because it would mean people thought I thought the publicist could write better than me…. e gad! So write what it is you actually think – if you loved it then hallelujah! It proves theatre is about far more than just big coats and testy egos.

Cindy September 24th, 2007

I saw the play on opening night and agree with many of the reviewers comments, but as a Maori/Polynesian I could be completely biased - but ohh what a bias to have. Great to see Polynesian actors portrayed in gritty roles and to get the audience members questioning age old stereotypes. Congratulations to Victor Rodger is who a strong brown politcal voice, willing to push the boundaries and brave enough to have uninformed comment come his way. Congrats to all cast and crew involved. Hope you all get along to see it. Fa'afetai lava to all those involved!

Wade September 24th, 2007

The Herald review is much more thoghtful.

Aaron Alexander September 24th, 2007

Well, John, he may be a troll, I don't know...but it IS a pretty gentle review, much of which could certainly pass for publicity material. Sian uses some fairly gushing praise, and doesn't appear to have disliked or even questioned a single aspect of the production. Hey, I certainly haven't seen it - it may actually be that good!

John Smythe September 24th, 2007

Sorry Wade, nee Lopez, AKA 40-odd others, you didn't get the hoped-for bucket tipped on mainstream theatre this time and you will not intimidate our reviewers into feeding your prejudice. Incidentally - have you actually seen this production or is that irrelevant to your agenda?

Wade September 24th, 2007

Is this a review or a media release?

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