As a show, NGGRFG has one obvious problem: people are either uncertain how to say it, or are simply reluctant to say out loud the two words it represents, because — quite understandably — it’s now generally accepted in polite society that ‘Nigger’ and ‘Fag’ are insulting and beyond the pale. Even the venue staff preferred to spell out the title before taking the tickets. Yet they are just words; it’s the racism and homophobia they represent that are the real targets of this challenging, and yet surprisingly life-affirming, hour-long show.
Written and performed by the engaging Berend McKenzie, we are given glimpses of a life shaped by overt racism and homophobia. McKenzie plays Buddy, a coloured boy adopted by white Canadian parents, which immediately marks him out as different and so a possible target for life’s bullies. He likes to skip, though even as a seven-year-old is clued up enough to know that this is not something to admit to in front of the other boys, especially given the rope’s spangly pink tassels (he inherited it from his sister, who was ‘moving on’). We learn that he’s dismissed by teachers as being too ‘flamboyant’; that his attempts to hang out at a High School party with cool punk girl Melanie McDougal ultimately leads to trouble. Later, while trying to make his way as a young actor, we see how his career options are shrinking by the day, given that he’s either ‘not black enough’ or ‘too gay’ for the few black roles available at the time in Canada.
Deliberately, these scenes from Buddy’s life are not told chronologically; under McKenzie’s energetic and gripping portrayal, we leap forward and backwards through Buddy’s life, deliberately experiencing the many lows before thankfully a character-affirming high lets us leave with some home in our minds. While a simple production — essentially it’s just McKenzie, and a chair, a few props and some sound and lighting effects — the result is a life-affirming story of how it’s possible to both face down the bullies and remain true to yourself.