Families are complex entities. Full of love, yes, but also ridden with secrets and rivalry. Our kin are often the people we can be the hardest on and sometimes the conflicts can last a life time. That is part of the dynamic in Po’Boys and Oysters, a new play by Estelle Chout.
It’s a story about a successful Black, lesbian couple Flo (Estelle Chout), and Jo (Layla Pitt)
who live in the beach suburb of Mission Bay in Auckland. They are affluent, successful, and though they have different taste in music and clothing, they get on well. What’s missing in their lives is a child, and so they have decided to adopt a young boy from Chile.
All good so far, except that Flo has to tell her conservative sister Marie (Sandra Zvenyika) the news and the two of them have a somewhat tempestuous relationship. Marie, her husband Shane (Andrew Johnson), and Stan’s young protégée Felix (Jack Briden), arrive for dinner, and it doesn’t take long before the sisters are at each other’s throats.
The chemistry between this cast, particularly the leading ladies is brilliant. Chout and Pitt are very convincing as a couple, and it is hard to believe that Chout and Zvenyika are not sisters. Their interactions are incredibly funny, their arguments seem very real, and the affection and reactions they have to one another perfectly synched.
Johnson as Stan is very good, but he is clearly the ‘straight’ character, designed to try and keep the peace and steady the ship. Felix is the ‘fool’ in this production, a Trump loving Tik Tok user who seems to put his foot in it regularly. He’s from Fielding, and therefore provides a caricature of the rural kiwi male. Yet Chout has written this role with more complexity. Felix is clearly there for some comic relief and Briden certainly delivers on that front. But he also shows some definite depth of character at times and that saves the role from being a one-dimensional bumpkin.
The main drama comes from two sources. The first is Marie’s conservative nature not accepting the idea of adoption and her prejudiced attitudes towards Jo, who is Haitian. The second source is another plot line that I won’t elaborate on in order not to spoil the story, but it revolves around a secret that Marie herself is carrying.
Po’Boys and Oysters is very cleverly written and is very very funny. But the drama within it is very real and covers a number of issues including prejudice within communities. It skilfully pushes shade on both woke and conservative politics, and also popular culture.
None of this is done with malice and it is certainly not preachy. The use of humour to make these points means the messages are clear, but you’ll laugh observing them.
The publicity for this play describes it as a deep dive into what it means to be Black, lesbian and living in Tamaki Makaurau. Interestingly though, while there are clearly cultural and sexual identity references in the work, what really struck me is that it is a very human and relatable story.
Po’ Boys and Oysters is a gem of a play that brings a fresh perspective to the stage. It is a well-told story that would hold its own in a much bigger venue.
Photo credit – Michael Loh
PO’BOYS AND OYSTERS
27 SEPT – 8 OCT 2022, 8PM
Tickets $18 – $38