Downstage Theatre
April 29-May 7 | Reviewed by Kate Blackhurst

THE OTHER DAY some friends and I were pondering what we did to entertain ourselves before the techno-You Tube generation. We all admitted we made up skits which we forced our parents and elderly neighbours to come and see, as we performed song and dance routines, ‘gymnastics’ (at best a handstand and a forward roll) puppet shows, or, at a push, poetry.

It seems that is also what happens in Poly-Zygotic as Samoan triplets Aso (Taofi Mose-Tuiloma), Tausaga (Asalem Tofete) and Masin (Tupe Lualua) work out what to perform for Lotu a Tamaiti or Children’s Day. The programme notes explain (to those, such as I, who need the explanation) that on this day the church is filled with people dressed in white, and children perform for their parents and relatives by reciting tauloto (bible verses), singing, or performing creative dances and dramas.

The show comprises the three arguing what they will present to their audience, while worrying that other groups will be better than theirs. As the eldest by an all important 21 seconds, Tusaga thinks he should make all the decisions, despite the ridicule of his sisters. Tofete beautifully captures the shyness behind the bravado when he unveils a routine he has been working on for two years (‘It better not be a trilogy!’). The sisters dismiss it as less like Black Grace and more of a disgrace, but in truth the three move with fluid charm and poise.

Similarly to Neil Ieremia, they decry the stereotypes, refusing to do anything about gangs or violence or ‘the pathetic angel who rescues them and sets them on the right path.’ They have already done all the best bible tales, so what will they do? Has every story been told already? And where will they find their own voice? As each of the siblings struggles for supremacy, this is clearly a question that has troubled them since birth. Masina explains their relationship when she points out that one of these things is not like the other things, and quotes her father who used to say, ‘You are nothing alike but just as ugly as each other.’ Without parents, they are co-dependent and the genuine affection is only barely masked by the simmering rivalry.

A zygote is a basic cell, containing all the genetic information necessary for a new organism. The fact that they are many (poly) leads us to expect a multitude of influences, and that is exactly what we get in this play. There are myriad cultural references, from the American hip-hop and reality TV to the multi-faceted ‘Fever’ sequence. Mose-Tuiloma’s sensual singing in a spot-light evokes the Hindu God and Lord of the Dance while Lualua enacts Bollywood dance-moves in silhouette behind a very Samoan tapa cloth.

There is a touch of stereotype as the three actors play the exquisite ‘aunties’, who observe and comment on themselves as the triplets. Either standing outside the church bitching and smoking, or sitting inside (with dextrous handling of deckchairs) fanning themselves and wearing hats, they talk in realistic rhythms of family histories and community scandals.

This is a rich production full of music, movement and laughter. The actors seem to enjoy themselves as much as the audience – which is always a good sign. Poly-zygotic represents the melting pot of multiculturalism while retaining the individuality of nationhood. It’s a delight.