I want to be a rock in the river of history, changing its flow, muses Jarod Rawiri as George Nepia in this calm, poetic, almost transcendental homage to the 1924 Invincibles fullback. Then he shrugs and says he's no rock, he's just a "pebble".
This beautifully unhurried one-man play - less an event-recording biography and more of a character sketch - is full of such self-effacement. Wide-eyed, George is astonished he's "seen as a hero because of what [he] could do with a rugby ball - a piece of pig skin!"
With gentle humour and a touch of poignancy, playwright Hone Kouka serves up Nepia according to traditional New Zealand taste in champions: the epitome of a great, yet humble, man. Complicated issues of race are noted but sidestepped. In Rawiri's characterisation, George is a good-natured naif who accepts his teammates calling him "hori" and doesn't often wish, even in private, to rock the boat.
Filling in the deliberate spaces of the script, Tawata Productions do an excellent job of supporting Rawiri's well-measured performance in interesting ways.
Miriama Ketu-McKenzie's old-timey score is effective, and Robert Larsen's and Thomas Hanover's illustrations, projected on to a hessian backboard, are appealing and suggestive.
Under the direction of Jason Te Kare, Rawiri has superb, quiet, confident stage presence; his face lights up and his actions are strong, clear and deliberate.
At first we see Nepia as an old man, looking over Eden Park with, we're told, other departed All Blacks. With Yoda-like syntax (a bit of a puzzle, that), the former player's amused wonderment over newfangled notions gives some of the best laughs: "purple boots! ... grass like carpet! ... Great screens that yell at you - wonderful!"
But, as in Jonny Brugh's one-man cricket play The Second Test, much action is on the ship journey to a sporting tour, to explore team camaraderie and dynamics, and in this 1924 case, Nepia's needless rugby self-doubt.
A lovely evening with a warm and gentle character, aka a rugby god.
What: I, George Nepia.
When: Until Saturday.
Where: Q Theatre, Queen St.