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Wednesday 08 April 2009

Reviews: Bud is "like nothing you've seen before"

Posted in: Performance
By David Cosgriff & Steve Attwood - 4th April 2009

Bud, Written & Directed by Ronald Trifero Nelson

Presented by Fabulous Arts Aotearoa New Zealand [FAANZ]

At BATS Theatre, Wellington until 9 Apr 2009.

On now at Wellington's BATS theatre, our reviewers thought Bud was edgy and voyeuristic, but lacked a comprehensible story…

Review by David Cosgriff

Writer and director Ronald Nelson promised this would be a challenging watch, pushing boundaries, and like nothing you might have seen before. He wasn't wrong.

If it's a challenging watch for the audience, spare a thought for the sole performer, Louis Solino (Bud), charged with bringing this piece to life. He has to start the show facing the audience, completely naked, in stone-cold silence for some 5 to 10 minutes, doing a somewhat bizarre, retro exercise routine, before we watch him get dressed, item by item. Unrushed. Silent. Meticulous. Voyeurs will love it. Me? I felt a bit like a peeping tom, unsure if I really should be watching. Maybe even a little uncomfortable but I think that's the effect Nelson was hoping for.

The only companions for Bud on stage are five movable venetian blind panels used to good effect throughout the 40 minute performance.

Louis Solino in Bud
Nelson is a second year Toi Whakaari: NZ Drama School student and Bud is his technical project for the course. There is nothing traditional about the presentation, combining a variety of techniques to tell a story – although by Nelson's own admission it's a rather loose story, which ends rather abruptly.

It is set in the 1950s when Bud, a 65-year-old pharmacist watches the 1950 homoerotic film Un Chant D'amour and it rekindles recollections of his own gay experiences. Those experiences are told through recorded narration, music and songs as Solino dances and plays out his memories.

For most of the show, that black and white, long-banned film is projected and seen on the surrounding walls and the venetian panels. Together, the blinds, the film, Solino, and the lighting produce a very cool effect.

Bud explores the challenges of being gay in the 50s, the fear, the missed chances, and the eroticism (read horniness) that develops from unrequited love.

It's a story worth telling and repeating and one that deserves to be told in whatever ways grab your attention. And Bud will grab your attention. Nelson's tales and narration are some of the highlights and it would be good to read those stories in print someday. Solino's interpretation is engaging and well executed and he moves through the performance apparently effortlessly.

For those unable to see the live show or who live out of Wellington, FAANZ is going to be live web-streaming the last two performances on its website.

Review by Steve Attwood

Louis Solino and writer/director Ronald Nelson talk through a scene
Let me say at the beginning that this is, technically, a stunning, provocative and edgy piece of theatre, cleverly produced and beautifully performed.

But for all its skill and its undoubted place in exploratory theatre in New Zealand, this production failed me on one essential point – it failed to tell me a comprehensible story.

If I had not read the preview and the theatre notes – say, a spur-of-the moment watcher fresh off the street – I would have left Bats not entirely sure of what I had just seen. This might, of course, have been one of the objectives of writer/director Ronald Nelson, who is quoted in the preview as saying that Bud is an "elusive story" where there are "massive things missing."

Too much missing Ronald, too much.

Call me old fashioned but, as well as taking me to a different place and exposing me to new feelings, experiences and thinking, good theatre should still, at its heart, be storytelling. The somewhat hesitant applause at the rather abrupt end (the whole thing is only about 40 minutes long), the questioning looks as the audience asked each other, "was that it?" spoke volumes. We had been challenged, pulled out of our comfort zone and had our imaginations stretched – fantastic! – but a sense of story remained elusive. I do not like having to go back to the preview notes to get even the beginnings of an understanding of what I had just seen. Without those notes, Bud was a technically brilliant, beautifully executed piece of theatrical choreography – oddly appealing but not quite satisfying.

Full marks though, to the producers, for casting Louis Solino in this solo role. An accomplished and acclaimed dancer, his silent performance gave the production something that the audience could grasp, and admire. Never has the act of a man dressing been made to seem so studied, so beautiful – and so long! Without Solino's visible presence and grace, this opening scene would have been an intolerable stretching of the nerves and the audience's patience.

The preview tells us that Bud is set in the 1950s and follows a 65-year-old man and his recollections of something of a gay sexual nature that 'maybe' to him some 40 years ago. Memories spurred by watching Jean Genet's long banned homoerotic film of 1950, Un chant d amour – which screens in the background. Essentially, Solino dances this story (such as it is) in silence, sometimes with, sometimes without, an accompanying voice-of-God narration and with the flickering black-and-white grainy images of the film screening in the background or on Venetian blinds in moveable frames that make up the play's only set.

So, if you want to watch a man dance, beautifully, with Venetian blinds, forget the theatre notes, just go see it cold turkey. You'll be puzzled, but you won't be disappointed.

If you want a story, go anyway, but read the preview first... several times.

David Cosgriff & Steve Attwood - 4th April 2009