Garth (Mario Faumui) is a flamboyant right-wing politician with a horrible case of halitosis and a better-than-you attitude. As Garth, Faumui plays petulant and oblivious, conceited and abrasive, and that makes the character so entertaining. Faumui has Garth fumble across the stage and incredibly defensive, which actually helps the audience feel for him in the moments where the insecurities rise. His combative energy really helps enliven the arguments between the three.
Lina (Anapela Polata’ivao), a biker-lesbian and wronged academic prone to ‘fog-horny’ laughter and overanalysis, spends most of her time flirting with the reverend or appalled by Garth’s attitude and breath. Polata’ivao is a powerhouse in this role: from a relaxed posture to pointed statements, she paints Lina as a powerful, comfortable, independent academic, which adds a beautiful contrast when we learn more about why she is there.
And finally, Stella (Goretti Chadwick), the local reverend with a salacious secret. Chadwick enters last out of the three but she ramps up the action immediately; she is the first to let her mistakes slip and her inhibitions flow, and comes off as distinctly wiser and more human than the others. There’s boundless laughter in her exploring the contrasts of Stella, between vice and religion, and her fantastic vocal and physical comedy only amplifies her stage presence.
They’ve been beckoned and trapped here by T.D (Paul McLaughlin), who insists they can’t escape because their deeds have put them here. There’s an aura of untouchability on McLaughlin through his performance, which makes his control of the situation humorous, and the way he communicates with and surprises the others makes for really kiwi, really funny situations.
Rodger’s story takes us through snippets of their lives interlaced with crass and slapstick comedy that helps maintain an energetic rhythm while slowly unravelling the story. This is particularly effective because the audience learns more about the characters and grabs more clues about what’s going on bit by bit, and as you uncover more details, you become sucked into the interactions between, the lives of, and the misguided actions of the three. His writing is incredibly comedic and shows exceptional craft, especially with the hundreds of back-and-forth moments between the bickering ‘roommates’. There couldn’t be a better vehicle for the directors and performers to drive.
The design behind the show really makes the play pop and pulse with energy. The stage (set design by Sean Coyle), with its white walls and furniture, are stained with nondescript brown filth, and the only notable features of the otherwise neutral room are a large tapa cloth to the left and a curiously placed monitor to the right. Coyle is also the man behind the costume design and each character has a unique flair; their costuming--a flash suit, a flannel shirt, and a clerical collar—plays into their stereotypes and adds to the contrast. Jennifer Lal, the lighting designer, helps the audience navigate time and set up routines for T.D’s entrance when the stage is bathed in reds. The videography (credited to Manusaute) act as T.D’s ‘receipts’ of the reasons for why each of the characters end up in the room. Their shoddy, B-grade style makes them ridiculously alluring and either helps us reach more comedy or helps show the characters where they went wrong and why they are being punished.
The real charm of UMA LAVA is in its ridiculousness, its obscenity, and its filth. And beyond this, there is still a message about humanity: it is a dark path to become lost in who we are, or the image of who we are. The fabulous writing and direction, ludicrous acting, and lively design coalesce to create a stand-out sixty minutes that will leave your sides aching from laughter. Simply put, I haven’t seen anything like it. And I doubt you will have either.
Audiences can catch UMA LAVA at Circa Theatre until Saturday 7 December; visiting the Circa Theatre website for more information on the production.