By SUSAN BUDD
Dianna Fuemana's acting career began in church plays, where she was always cast as Satan. Now the emphasis is on brotherly love.
Tall, curvaceous and with heaps of hair, the 27-year-old mother of two will soon perform her first solo show, Mapaki (Niuean for broken) at the Maidment Studio.
Described by a Wellington critic as "a small miracle" when it opened at Bats Theatre last November, the play tells the story of Fisi who, as a gift of love, is raised by her Niuean nan. She escapes into a world of fantasy when faced by the realities of life and her love for Jason, helped only by her fa'afine childhood friend Gina.
Mapaki is directed by Hori Ahipene, well known for his television role in Skitz as the sweetly domineering Semisi mum and a star of the movie Jubilee.
"He is very hard, so I can't be lazy, and he is committed to working professionally," Fuemana says.
"He questions everything. I have seen so much bad fringe theatre and I knew I could not do it alone. The burden is too big to carry."
They had only two weeks to put the play into shape, but Fuemana said she had done a year's footwork.
"When an outside eye comes in you realise how entrenched and bogged-down your own ideas are."
Fuemana insists that the play is not autobiographical.
"I pull from emotional sources in my own life and from people I know, but there is a lot of fantasy."
Like Fifi, she grew up in the 1980s and was addicted to soap operas such as The Young and Restless and Dynasty; she admits to being strongly influenced by them. Mapaki includes a cameo of Victor from The Young and Restless.
But when Fuemana was 14 she stopped watching television.
"The soap opera became my life," she says.
She left Henderson High School at 16 to marry and give birth to her first child, Solomon. Her daughter, Reid, arrived four years later.
Married life did not quench Fuemana's appetite for learning and she has a diploma in drama and a postgraduate diploma in management from the University of Auckland.
After a year at home she returned to school and then studied television and film production at Carrington Polytechnic.
"It was hard going with my son in the creche," she says. "The furthest I went with my friends was to the front gate while they went to the next party."
The University of Auckland, where she studied drama, was even harder. With two children, trying to get to class on time was hell.
"You would hear unattached people moaning about physical class in the morning, but I did my own warming-up at 6.30."
Now Fuemana has friends contemplating having children, but she feels that she can move on with her life, having grown up with her own children.
"One of the reason I love acting is that as adults you play like children. I am a huge player, chasing the children round the house and outside."
As the youngest of seven children, she confesses to being very spoiled and having always had her own way.
Her father, Togavale , died on Easter Monday (Fuemana's birthday) and the Auckland season is dedicated to him. She often talks of him in the present tense.
"He is a card. He was so inspirational. He never understood what I wanted to do, but he saw when I was happy and wanted me to do that.
"He supported my studying and acting and he also wrote the song I open the show with. He loved it and cried. That made me really thrilled.
"Thanks, Dad - I could not have done it without you."
Togavale gave support, love and confidence to his children and when he died all felt they were his favourites.
Fuemana's mother, like her daughter, is very dramatic.
"I get my loudness from my mother and my stable mind from my father," she says.
But her mother will never upstage her, as her daughter did, by singing her songs loudly during the performance.
In October, Fuemana is taking Mapaki to Greece for the International Women's Playwright Festival. She is now writing another play.
As an actor, writer, teacher and mother, she never has time for the laziness she claims as her main sin.
By SUSAN BUDD