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Written & Directed by Ronald Trifero Nelson
presented by Fabulous Arts Aotearoa New Zealand [FAANZ]

at BATS, Wellington
From 1 Apr 2009 to 9 Apr 2009

Reviewed by John Smythe, 2 Apr 2009

We don't normally review the technical projects of second year Toi Whakaari: NZ Drama School MTA directing students but given Ronald Trifero Nelson's BUD is playing at BATS and charging for tickets, it seems appropriate.

Written and directed by Nelson, BUD blends live action with film and audio. The promo material and credits suggest live web streaming is also part of the mix but I didn't notice any.

An intriguing set, designed by Pat McIntosh and splendidly lit film noir-style by Paul Tozer, largely comprises half a dozen mobile steel-framed slim-line venetian blinds, queued up diagonally from downstage to upstage. In a gap between them, half way up, a naked man (Louis Solino) lies on his back, sleeping ... waking ... stroking his skin ...

He rises, goes through a rather robotic exercise regime, steps a little to the side and repeats them - about 5 times. This brings him to his neatly folded clothes which he proceeds to put on, slowly and methodically: the free and sensuous body is encased, albeit in a stylish 3-piece suit with overcoat, scarf, hat and dark glasses (costume design: Paul Jenden).

Strident music blares as the man strides in geometric lines ... and starts removing clothes ... just down to an open-necked shirt, thankfully. And clips of a 1950s b&w film start screening on the back and side walls and sometimes on the blinds: Jean Genet's long-banned Un Chant d'Amour, in which (I discover more from Googling than from observing the disrupted images) two men in prison, separated by a brick wall, achieve sensuous communication by poking a straw through a gap and blowing cigarette smoke through it.  

The narrating voice is American and speaks of being looked over "like a steer at an auction", of going into a barn, of wheat, of going into the house ... then they are French fellas headed for New York City, driving a Buick ... and San Francisco is revered as "where a man can be what he needs to be."

Meanwhile his only dance partner is one of the framed blinds ... The ending is sudden, signalled by the applause of a plant in the audience (which feels like a cheat to me).

Louis Solino is beautifully focussed and controlled in his movements: a compelling physical presence whose actions command interpretation.

So what does it all add up to? An evocation of the state of being illicitly gay in the 1950s; the secrecy, insularity and loneliness of the experience, counterpointed with a persistent awareness of the sensuality of the male body; of loving men, provoked by the film ...

So far so good, and probably adequate for a technical exercise, although I feel the potential of the blinds as screens, filters and as tantalising disrupters of things we want to see, could have been explored further. And I note that sight-line wise, what is seen and obscured will be very different according to where you sit.

At 35-40 minutes (similar to the very different Dolores) it doesn't quite outstay its welcome. Nor does it create as much as it could, as a performance work involving character, story and a binding theme, with the resources at its disposal.
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See also reviews by:
 Lynn Freeman (Capital Times);