115th Annual Conference - Honolulu, Hawaii
Friday, November 10 - Sunday, November 12, 2017

Gothic Reflections in Dianna Fuemana’s Mapaki

Kimberly Jew, University of Utah

This paper will explore the emerging gothic aesthetic in contemporary Pacific Islander theatre. After a brief overview of selected postcolonial-gothic Pacific Island plays, Dianna Fuemana’s short drama, Mapaki, will be analyzed for its deployment of gothic tropes of horror, fright, imprisonment, threat, chaos and the supernatural. While Fuemana clearly embraces the gothic to depict her lead character’s postcolonial malaise, she also troubles gothic enticements by using metatheatrical techniques to alienate her audience members.


Given theatre’s reliance on the liveliness of performance, as well as its essential connection to porous boundaries and roles – both physical and imaginary - the dramatic stage proves an effective storytelling model through which to bring the gothic universe to life. As my proposed paper will discuss, contemporary Pacific Island playwrights have embraced the wide range of gothic possibilities. From heavy tones to sinister forces to outright anti-authoritarian chaos, intrusive hauntings or shifting realities, gothic aesthetics have effectively theatricalized the postcolonial struggles of the Pacific Islander characters and communities on stage. 

To illuminate this developing dramatic genre, the postcolonial gothic play, Mapaki by Dianna Fuemana, will be analyzed for its rich and complex use of gothic aesthetics. First performed in 1999 at the BATS Theatre in Wellington, New Zealand, this short and intense play explores the domestic abuse and cultural disenfranchisement of an idealistic, young Niuean woman. Born and raised in New Zealand, an imprisoned Fisi recalls the events that led to her killing of her abusive boyfriend, Jason.

My paper will first situate Mapaki in context of other recent postcolonial gothic Pacific Island plays, seeking to articulate common gothic traits among three similar works. Afterward, this critical analysis will shift attention to an intriguing and contradictory dynamic that shapes Mapaki, one that suggests an attempt to expand beyond the traditional gothic operations in theatre. On one hand, Fuemana creates a familiar gothic space that is highly intimate and emotional; an inviting interiority fueled by severe trauma, a highly poetic structure, and the supernatural. On the flip side, Fuemana’s strong use of theatrical alienation techniques mystifies her spectators. Mapaki’s documentary material and openly metatheatrical elements tamp down the audience’s full emotional identification with the characters and actions. As will be discussed, this active tug-of-war between Fisi’s intimate presence and the play’s overtly theatrical gestures embodies the greater gothic cause underlying Mapaki.