The one-woman play by a Samoan New Zealander that toured the world for eight years before becoming an acclaimed collection of poetry and turning into an ensemble play is now heading to New York for an off-Broadway season — but first it's coming to the Tauranga Arts Festival.

In Wild Dogs Under My Skirt, Tusiata Avia examines what it means to belong to two cultures, while belonging fully to neither. Using the oral traditions of storytelling and poetry, the play confronts politics, sexism, racism and love.

"It's Pasifika women unleashed and unmuted," says producer Victor Rodger, "and collectively tells the story of what it is to be a Samoan woman."
Victor, Tusiata's cousin and an award-winning playwright himself, was responsible for repurposing the show with an ensemble cast.

"The one-woman show performed in places like Moscow and Amsterdam and people responded to the truth of it wherever it went so I dearly wanted to try a play reading using six women. It was immediately different and amazing."

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Although the play deals with some tough issues, Victor notes there's also plenty of comedy.

"The laughs may get strangled in your throat at times, but that's the genius of Tusiata's writing," he says. "There's a lot of anger, beauty, humour and unbridled rage.

"I've never been to a play that's made my heart pound like that."

Wild Dogs is directed by Anapela Polata'ivao, who scooped last year's Actress of the Year title at the Wellington Theatre Awards for this play, although she's not appearing onstage in Tauranga.

"Audience reaction is always pretty interesting," says Victor. "The play gives a sense of what's underneath that dusky maiden stereotype, what's underneath the culture. You might think it's a play for women but I know many men enjoy Wild Dogs. If you're interested in humanity, there's plenty here to get your teeth into."

The play is going to New York in January after someone from the famous SoHo Playhouse saw the show in Auckland.

"Anapela's taken it all the way," Victor says. "This is largely on her."

Victor, who's also appearing in the Speaker programme of the Tauranga Arts Festival talking about racism, is currently rehearsing his new play Uma Lava, a comedy set in hell and starring Anapela, Goretti Chadwick (coming to the Tauranga festival with Still Life with Chickens) and David Fane.

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"It's a Polynesian version of Jean-Paul Sartre's famous play No Exit," Victor says. "Three strangers, who hate each other's guts, are trapped together in a small, uncomfortable and increasingly hot room. I'm looking forward to it."

the fine print
WHAT: Wild Dogs Under My Skirt

WHERE: X Space at Baycourt

WHEN: November 1 and 2, 7pm

TICKETS: From Baycourt box office or through the Tauranga Arts Festival website, taurangafestival.co.nz