Local playwright Victor Rodger has followed up last year's revival (Sons) and premiere (At the Wake) with a new play that brings a light touch to tragedy.

Appropriately Girl on a Corner starts with a wonderful a capella rendition of Sheryl Crow's drawled anthem All I Wanna Do - immediately we're in mid-1990s Los Angeles, where Eddie Murphy allegedly picked up an American Samoan fa'afafine, Shalimar, as the sun came up over Santa Monica Boulevard.

Shalimar (Amanaki Prescott, in a white dress with sequin straps for angel wings) narrates her own short life and dreams, surrounded by her parents, brother, uncle, teenage crush and Eddie Murphy himself (judging by the lack of characterisation, no Eddie Murphy movies were watched in the making of this show). She was a cheerleader and a beauty queen before heading to Los Angeles with her "high heels, jandals and hormone replacement pills''. (Not all fa'afafine wish to have sex-change operations but Shalimar does.)

Directors Anapela Polataivo and Vela Manusaute from the Kila Kokonut Krew use the cast of seven on the bare stage for the whole play to good effect - the actors tend to hug the back wall but they also become a Greek chorus of fab back-up dancers.


Their voices create staccato poetics in the introductory scene, and Jen Lal's lighting is subtle and supportive. Humour is delivered in physicality, English and Samoan.

But - very reasonably for an $18 Fringe Festival play - the piece feels like it's still in development. It's rather high on exposition, and low on illuminating detail. Streetwalking in LA looks like a gentle walk in the park. We are told that "fafas" are treated differently in the USA and Samoa - but how?

Rodger has reached behind lurid headlines to give his subject some dignity, but he's also scrubbed her environment squeaky clean - little swearing, no sex, no drugs, no alcohol.

More thought is required to lift Shalimar from cliché, and to structure a story with depth from biographical episodes. Still, enjoyable performances make this excellent value.

What: Girl on a Corner
When: Now to February 14
Where: The Basement, Auckland

- nzherald.co.nz