In his introductory program note for Agokwe, the one-man show currently running at Buddies in Bad Times Theatre, 24-year-old writer/performer Waawaate Fobister calls himself a “cheese ball” who feels compelled to dedicate his solo performance to his family “who are unable to make it out all the way to Toronto, because my family are poor Indians. Ha ha.”
Fobister’s biting, tongue-in-cheek sense of humour permeates a 75- minute tour de force that has him channelling a variety of characters through the iconic multifarious persona of Nanabush, “the trickster of tricksters.”
At the core of this wildly funny and touching narrative lies a queer love story between two young men struggling with their sexuality. Mike is a hockey player and Jake is a gifted dancer. The boys notice each other at the Kenora Shoppers Mall and ultimately connect through a mutual love of movement — when Mike is in the game and Jake is dancing, “like grass blowing in the wind.” Playing both characters Fobister intertwines the boys’ attraction to each other through activities that traditionally separate gender and orientations. In the case of Jake and Mike, hockey and dance bring them together in both thought and action.
Fobister’s impressive vocal skills, marked by a clear, quirky eloquence and measured pacing, engages the audience at the outset and takes us on a bittersweet journey through queer identity and “gay love on the rez.” Perhaps the most engaging of all the characters that Fobister delineates is Betty Moses, Mike’s alcoholic mother who unapologetically and powerfully describes her love for her son and the way in which he came into her life. As Betty, Fobister delivers a strong, nuanced and endearing characterization. Her beautifully crafted monologue on “big buck Douglas Big Canoe” and how they “fell in love over a bottle of whiskey and his big canoe” is a classic moment of empowered identity that addresses complex issues in moving and comic ways.
Director Ed Roy has taken great care by lending a strong, delicate touch to the piece, keeping Fobister centre stage for much of the evening and allowing him effective moments of graceful and evocative movement at crucial intervals.
Adding immeasurably to the intimate ambiance of the piece are Andy Moro’s set and projection designs, Marc Nadjiwan’s original music, Kimberly Purtell’s lighting, Erika Isheroff’s costumes and Lyon Smith’s soundscape.
As the season opener for Buddies, Ogokwe appropriately marks the “two- spirited” focus of a company that strives to include a variety of gendered voices. Agokwe is a remarkable and refreshing testament to the company’s mandate as it speaks eloquently and exuberantly of the joys and the tragedies of growing up gay within communities marginalized along lines of race and gender.