Overcoming a somewhat shaky start, writer and director Jean Tong’s Romeo Is Not The Only Fruit finds its feet with a ridiculous number about not being racist in this original, witty and sometimes irreverent musical. Inspired by the Dead Lesbian Syndrome trope, also known as Bury Your Gays, Tong incorporates an abundance of pop culture, literary and musical references. It’s a shame they’re often fleeting. In her eagerness to pack as many references in as possible, Tong doesn’t engage with many of these, resulting in an off-the-cuff feel that occasionally comes off as pseudo-intellectual rather than creative or clever.
Although the story centres around the budding romantic relationship between two star-crossed young lovers in Verona, it’s not the Shakespearean parody that its partial namesake may suggest. Inspired more by the latter half of its namesake, Romeo Is Not The Only Fruit sees Juliet (Margot Tanjutco) experience her lesbian awakening as she meets newcomer Darcy (Louisa Wall). Her struggle to accept herself thrusts this almost coming-of-age narrative into a sequence of often ridiculous events guided by her Dead Lesbian Chorus (Sasha Chong, Nisha Joseph and Pallavi Waghmode) with a magic realism touch.
With their comical height difference alone, Wall and Tanjutco are an aesthetically comic pairing, and Tong milks this contrast. Wall’s own brand of self-deprecating humour slots perfectly into the role of Darcy; her “mayonnaise” pallor becomes the butt of an ongoing joke, and her natural comic timing elevates the performance.
Playing with racial stereotypes and tropes, Tong’s humour is mostly creative, subversive and irreverently politically incorrect. Unfortunately, the flippant humour is occasionally bafflingly gratuitous. Moving between the roles of the sassy Dead Lesbian Chorus and Juliet’s insensitive mother and grandmother, Chong and Joseph adopt exaggerated stereotypical accents and affectations. Joseph’s crude characterisation of Juliet’s grandmother and her emphatic “I know, huh!” feels like a George Lopez impression instead of edgy, political commentary.
Fortunately, this doesn’t detract from the overall impact of the show. Tong’s direction is playful and her vision is achieved with clever simplicity. The sparing use of cardboard cut-outs allows the writing to shine, and the self-aware use of narration in building and transitioni
ng between scenes demonstrates Tong’s careful and creative use of the space.
Romeo Is Not The Only Fruit is a thoroughly enjoyable musical romp through the woods of political satire and glowing back lights. Showing until November 26th at Butterfly Club, Tong’s quirky vision and witty narrative are well worth the visit.