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March 2, 2009 | by  | in Theatre | [ssba]

Once Upon a Time in Aro Valley

Once Upon a Time in Aro Valley is allegedly aimed at 25-and-up males. This is not entirely accurate. It’s aimed at homophobic, misogynist 25-and-up males. Writer/Director Tza Drake seems to have set out to write Guy Ritchie meets The Big Lebowski meets a fervently masturbating ADHD six-year-old. He does not seem to have considered the fact it is frankly unacceptable to base humour around either the idea that women are disposable objects or that homosexuality is inherently bad and thusly, hilarious.

At one point during the show, I rested my head against the wall to my left. I found a screw sticking out of the wall. Pressing my head into it I was now safe in the knowledge that, should this get any worse I could quickly end my life with a sharp jerk of my head. The only alternative to theatre should never be death.

Dennis (Stefan Alderson) has killed his girlfriend Liz (Barbara Woods) and has called his friend Gene (Jack Pierce) to help him dispose of the body. They then talk for 50 endless minutes. A flashback serves only to prove that she deserved it. Because in Once women are objects, animals or soulless nagging harridans who only exist to be objectified or murdered. The plot revolves around the fact that the annoying part of this dead body equation is not that he murdered his girlfriend but that he’s inconvenienced his friend. They discuss going to the police, but don’t because they think they’ve done nothing wrong. That’s right. This play actively and unironically justifies the murder of women.

Drake’s direction, like his writing, is dire. The play has been plopped into the space as one would fling beans on to a plate with no thought towards anything other than greedy consumption. Nico Gottschalk’s lighting is workable, as is the uncredited costume and set, but that just shows that they should have known better when it came to the actual content of the play.

It is important to consider that, for a lot of people involved, this is their first work onstage. Normally one would see some promise in the work. Sadly, little exists here. They have created a deeply offensive work that directly and mean spiritedly attacks both the gay community and women. The only plant that can grow from this seed is a sewer plant excreting theatrical filth. It takes a lot for me not to applaud a play. Even the worst theatre deserves the encouragement of applause simply for putting something on. This didn’t.

I fear that upon reading this, the people involved will be glad. “Hooray. We blew that small time student critic’s mind. That’s how alternative we are.” So, let me, pre-emptively respond to them. “No. What you are doing is not alternative or daring. It is cowardly offensive drivel. Shame on you.”

Sadly, it seems—having played to large, laughing audiences—Once has been a success. All this serves to prove is that there are a lot of homophobic, misogynistic people out there willing to laugh at this show’s vitriolic hate. That this show has found an audience is a grim reflection of the current state of society.

It is important to note here, as a kind of disclaimer, that I in no way blame BATS or the Fringe Festival for this show. I am not calling for censorship of the Fringe’s open acceptance policy. I am not calling for BATS to look more carefully at its acceptance of new and up-and-coming theatre groups. Those two policies are wonderful, and directly result in a lot of the great work produced on the Wellington stage today. But the good must always come with the bad. We have to weather the sins of bad or offensive art to get to the gold that emerges side-by-side with it.

It really only remains to be said that this is quite simply, without exaggeration, the worst piece of theatre I’ve ever seen.

Written and Directed by Tza DrakeWith Stefan Alderson, Jack Pierce and Barbara Woods

20–24 February at BATS Theatre

Part of the 2009 Wellington Fringe Festival.


About the Author ()

Uther was one of the two arts editors in 2009. He was the horoscopier and theatre writer in 2010. Alongside Elle Hunt, Uther was coeditor in 2011.

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