Saturday 16 March 2019

Hot Brown Honey is a hip-hop pitch to pump up the world's matriarchs 
All the basic condition theatre requires is that fire last night & those costumes 
& the human voice & people gathered together.  
Sir Trevor Nunn, Director (Cats, 1981 \ Les Miserables, 1985)

Start with six women of colour from various offshore indigenous cultures -- Oz, Maori, Samoan, Tongan, Indonesian and South African. Dress them up in burlesque mode and get them to strut their stuff vaudeville-style. All to an omnipresent pounding hip-hop back beat. What better combination to capture sexism, racism, and patriarchal repression than a theatrical format with a title that is both self-descriptive and self-satire : hot, brown, honey's.

The Hot Brown Honey troupe is nothing if not a cheeky look at aboriginal women's power with tongues hissing forth sarcastic barbs even as they bury themselves deep in the actors' cheeks at the same time.
Photo credit Chrissie Hall

The brainchild of Kim "Busty Beatz" Bowers and Lisa Fa'alafi, HBH uses a giant honeycomb of whirring, whizzing coloured lights to help pound out a show that is at once dance hall delirious and town hall serious in its intent. If you can't hustle folks with ear-crashing song-&-dance, you'll never seduce their brains to reflect honestly on their oppressive privilege, HBH suggests. "Make some noise!" Queen Bee Beatz repeatedly cajoles the crowd from her perch as cheer squad coach and pontificator from on high. 

Wiki tells us "hivemind" is shared or swarm intelligence, a kind of collective consciousness. Bowers liked linking the concept of matriarchal wisdom and order via the honeycomb stage set but at the same time get the place buzzing by doing burlesque, doing circus, doing a tonne of hip-hop kramping. 

Taken together the aim is to tickle and sting both the ego and the conscience of the ticket-buyers. "It's all about decolonization -- from structural oppression, racism, stereotpyes and micro-agressions that follow us -- that, and moisturizing -- because self-care is key," a winking Bowers told The Courier two years back. (The silver confetti bits to signal orgasms were just choice.)

Sexy is as sexy does, but, um, "Don't touch my hair!" the women cry out in a vaudeville revue format. 
Photo credit Dylan Evans
Lots of historical send-up at play here, starting with a feathery circular strip-tease sequence (old wax 33 1/3 LP's hold the feathers together). But costumes are soon flung off and the cast all pop out in maids' clothes as Beatz intones : "The problem with stereotypes is not that they are untrue, it is that they are incomplete. You are not the maid!" she shouts at each of them, one-by-one : "You, we! are the new matriarchs -- matriarchs-in-the-making!" is the reigning refrain.

The audience is quickly brought into play through traditional call-&-response : "When I say Rise! you say Up! When I say Stand! you say Up! When I say Wake! you say Up!" Indeed, for viewers of every age and gender, to be woke is the primary goal the script drives at. 

Co-writer / director / designer Lisa Fa'alafi is chief choreographer of the troupe and uses her mischievous eyes to beguile and tease : "You can't have a revolution without child care!" she says, promising her phantom babysitters she'll be home soon. Later she does a wild woman dance with tropical fronds that she refers to as a tribute to "dusky maiden phantasies". The crowd cheered their acclaim at her trad goddess schtick.

But it was performer Crystal Stacey who truly wow'd the house. First with her take-off on an Oz tourist in Bali in a flag bikini who chugs 2 L. plastic jugs of sugary all-inclusive booze. Five, six, seven hula hoops she flings and twirls about symmetrically to the whoops of delight from the audience. There's a parallel to the Harlem Globetrotters here, not sure we're to laugh at or with or in spite of.

Later she does a Cirque du Soleil soliloquy on silk ropes depicting a rape scene. The backdrop is a 9-1-1 dispatcher trying to figure out why she can't answer his blueprint of scripted questions. A breathtaking, teary sequence whose length and power never let us loose. 

Ever heard of a "beatboxer"? Hope Haami has some moments of sheer inventiveness as she makes rhythmic beats with her mouth that are imperative and commanding. (She and Inuit throat singer Janet Aglukkaq could do beautiful music together -- even better if the ageless Buffy Ste. Marie were along to tunesmith their percussion.)

Who gonna like all this, you ask? A septuagenarian friend always open to change and new cultural experiences chimed at show's end : "This is aimed at the over-16, under-40 crowd...!" It certainly targets the "Make some noise!" fans who crowd into DJ clubs and scream themselves hoarse into the wee hours making small talk. 

Can change come from 75 minutes of sarcastic shout-outs played against deafening hip-hop drumbeats ? The show ends by quoting feminist elder Audre Lorde, a matron saint of matriarchs. She famously said "We are taught to respect fear more than ourselves. We've been taught that silence would save us, but it won't."  Hot Brown Honey is a roomful of noise that wants to prove that Lorde's time has come.

Particulars : Presented by The Cultch in collaboration with Australia's Briefs Factory theatre in partnership with Kim "Busty Beatz" Bowers and Lisa Fa'alafiProduced at the York Theatre, 639 Commercial Drive. On until March 30, 2019Tickets & schedule information by phone at 604.251.1363 or hit The CultchRun-time 75 minutes, no intermission or respite.

Production team :  Director Lisa Fa'alafi. Musical Direction Kim "Busty Beatz" Bowers.  Production Design / Costume Design Lisa Fa'alafiOriginal Composition & Sound Design Kim "Busty Beatz" Bowers. Choreography Lisa Fa'alafi.  Additional Choreography in 'The Privilege Test' by Samantha Williams. Lighting Designer Paul Lim.  Set Designer Tristan Shelly.  Graffiti Art Libby Harward a.k.a. Mz. Murray Cod.  Technical Manager Jake JoblingCompany Manager Colleen Sutherland. 

Performers :  Lisa Fa'alafi (The Game Changer).  Ofa Fotu (The Myth Slayer). Hope Haami (The Beat Boxer).  Elena Wangurra (The Truth Sayer). Crystal Stacey (The Peace Maker). Busty Beatz (The Queen Bee). 

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