When writer Sam Brooks considered the plays he'd seen about gay relationships, he realised he'd never watched one like the kind he wanted to see on stage.
There were coming out stories and tales about rejection and struggle; never one about a healthy relationship between men who, like everyone else, are naturally flawed but don't come across as being tortured.
"Men whose sexuality has never been the problem for them," says Brooks, who grew up gay in Papakura.
"I wanted to see something that I had not seen on stage before and I thought I wouldn't see it unless I wrote it."
So, his new play, Twenty Eight Millimetres, is a love story of many parts: of love between two men, between boyfriends, between husbands, between brothers, between people left behind. But with around a dozen plays to his name, Brooks is savvy enough to realise something must propel the story.
What drives Twenty Eight Millimetres are questions about how we remember our own histories and the choices we make when creating those memories.
"Two gay men meet at a party and it follows their relationship which is also framed by the younger brother of one of them who's viewing that relationship and forms an idea of what love is from seeing them," says Brooks.
"It's about how the idea of love is so much different from the actual reality of it; the image of it from the outside is completely different from being in it. A good love is not necessarily an easy love. All of us love imperfectly."
Twenty eight millimetres refers to the distance between memory and reality, the chasm between understanding and not. The cast includes Tim Earl, Geordie Holibar and Dan Veint.
Brooks, a journalist who writes for the Spinoff website, has been writing plays for the better part of a decade. He won the Bruce Mason Playwriting Award last year, adding it to prizes he's won in the Playmarket b425 competition (two in a row) and a highly commended at the Adam NZ Play Awards for perhaps his best known play Riding in Cars with (Mostly Straight) Boys.
He believes Twenty Eight Millimetres fits well in the Pride festival, saying it's a return to its old-school values because it unashamedly depicts honestly and openly the lives of the gay men in it and is all about "creating the world you want to live in" — a nod to this year's festival slogan.
"I'm excited about having this narrative style appear more often; I think it becomes such a dangerous thing to show audiences that the only gay men who are around have to have struggled with sexuality at some point and I don't think that's the case as much anymore, and it should be less so the case as history rolls on forward into some kind of greater acceptance."
Brooks has a reputation for writing quick dialogue, sharp commentary and unconventional friendships and relationships that, yes, sometimes end in heartbreak. This year, Auckland audiences will see and hear a lot more of his work.
He's teamed up with actor/director Sam Snedden, the former business development manager at The Basement Theatre. Snedden left last year, having helped transform the organisation into one now recognised by Creative New Zealand as a national leader in theatre.
For Snedden, Twenty Eight Millimetres is a challenge because it's unlike anything he's directed before.
"Not only in subject matter or in content, but in style. The play mixes narration, often to the audience or a specific person; direct dialogue to the person you're in the scene with and story-telling where you're in the moment but commenting on it."
The two Sams have known each other for a few years; Twenty Eight Millimetres was workshopped at the Basement and several of Brooks' plays have been performed there. Snedden admires Brooks' work ethic and the way he takes on board and responds to criticism. Brooks, in turn, says he trusts Snedden.
"We have a similar rigour in the way we work; we're not brutal but, I think, Sam and I are very upfront about the way we see things and what we think of things that are not up to standard," says Brooks. "We work very well together as people; I don't feel I could ever say anything that could catch Sam offside …"
"Not yet …," quips Snedden, "I think we can be upfront with each other and if something doesn't work, I'll just be like, 'this bit doesn't work'."
Brooks says he's "sweet" with that. Which is just as well because he and Snedden work together three times this year. When this project ends, they'll turn their attention to a play called Burn Her at Q Theatre then, at the end of the year, they'll help develop a play for the Actors' Program Graduate show.
What: Pride Festival — Twenty Eight Millimetres
Where & when: Basement Theatre, February 13-17; the Auckland Pride Festival runs February 2-18 regionwide