t. 92, Victor Rodger, Black Faggot and other plays. 

Black Faggot and other plays by Victor Rodger.
Wellington: VUP (2017).
RRP: $35. Pb, 170pp.
ISBN: 9781776561032.
Reviewed by Brenda Allen.


Victor Rodger’s Black Faggot and other plays
is a collection of three: Black Faggot; At the Wake; and Club Paradiso. All three provoke audiences to think about issues of difference, focusing on religion, gender, race and/or mental instability. The writer explains in his note that the titular play was inspired by the 2004 Destiny Church “march against the Civil Union Bill’ where he saw “fathers march[] with sons” and knew that “ at the very least one of those sons would be gay” (p 9). His ideas grew over the years in response to “the opposition from some members of the Pacific community to the Marriage Equality Bill ….” (p 9).

In Black Faggot homophobia exists side by side with love, complicating relationships between gay men, but also complicating interactions within families for whom the Destiny Church has the final (the only?) interpretation of what is Christian and the nature of God. The characters move within this world and between family and the world they share with their mates and/or gay acquaintances.

The factional nature of Pacific New Zealanders further complicates the social and ideological mire the boys/men must negotiate. Rodger encapsulates rifts succinctly when Undercover Brother comes out to his mother, Mama Letti (p 42). Mama Letti’s reaction spans a range of possible shocks in rising level of unacceptable behaviours from drunkenness or traffic accident through getting a girl pregnant: ‘… is she Samoan?  Is she palagi? Is she Maori? James – is she a Tongan?’ (p 41), and when she finally understands that her son is gay her immediate reaction is: ‘What did I do wrong?’ and ‘You know what it says in the Bible, James. Maybe we should talk to the minister’ (p 42).

As a reader coming to the script without previous knowledge of the play I did find the number of characters confusing and that confusion was deepened by the fact that some have as many as three different names, for example, Undercover Brother is James within his family and several characters have names that seem to be used only within the gay community.

Throughout, this play is a thoughtful and provoking discussion of how the uptake of the Destiny Church among Pacific communities has intensified the destabilising effects of difference by showing ways in which to be gay is to perform a range of roles for home, church and wider (mainly white) society in general.

In the At the Wake we meet a feisty old white woman, Joan and her half-Samoan grandson, Robert. From the outset it is clear they love and understand one another well. The relationship becomes strained, however, when Robert appears dressed for his mother’s wake in formal Samoan dress: ie faitaga. Joan is shocked that he should think it right to wear “a dress” to his mother’s funeral (p 57). While Robert sees the garment as ‘a tribute’, Joan sees it as an insult because Robert’s Samoan father, Tofi, has been absent leaving her and her daughter to raise Robert. A wide-ranging argument follows and reignites in Scene 4 when Tofi enters also in traditional dress. Joan and Robert argue again. Joan cannot forgive Tofi for leaving her daughter broken hearted. An initially awkward conversation reveals that Tofi is a member of the Destiny Church, becomes more strained when Robert tells his father that he is gay. Joan already knows. For her that is just how Robert is. Her love and respect are not diminished in any way. Gradually various family skeletons emerge one by one until at last they are all out in the open and the characters are exhausted. The pace is fast moving and reveals deep seated prejudice on all sides.

In Club Paradiso staff and patrons are held up by a gun-wielding psychopath and his sidekick. Events play out over roughly the same length of dialogue as At the Wake, but with no change of scene or other break. All the while the playwright weaves issues of gender as a spectrum of differences, family loyalty, Pacific identity, especially the irrelevance of palagi, and the inadequacy of society’s ways of dealing with the mentally challenged and the criminally insane. Irony rules near the end when the mentally challenged sidekick begins to see the point of view of the victims, some of who taunted him during childhood.  The scene is one long crescendo, intensifying steadily until the finale. To say more would be to spoil for future readers/audiences the suspense, which also intensifies gradually to the end of the work.

Together, these plays form a range of social comment about New Zealand Pacific communities and about Aotearoa New Zealanders in general demonstrating the urgent need for those of us who can broaden rather than narrow our ideas of what makes a community. The Destiny Church is indicted for its narrowness.


Brenda Allen studied, taught and published essays about narrative texts (including films) at the University of Auckland Te Whare Wānanga o Tāmaki Makaurau.  She retired in 2016 and now lives in Waihi where she reads, gardens and thinks about writing something in the near future.