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Kumu Kahua theatre's 32nd season
by Yonie Espiritu, associate editor

In a 132 year-old building—the Kamehameha V Post Office—Kumu Kahua Theatre will kick off it’s 32nd season this school year.

Kumu Kahua is a group of actors who put on plays about life in Hawai‘i. Kumu Kahua is dedicated to educating people about Hawai‘i’s history and people.

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Their mission is to perform “Plays about life in Hawai‘i, plays by Hawai‘i playwrights, plays for Hawai‘i people.” The theatre itself is a major part of Hawai‘i’s history. It occupies space in a building designed and built by King Kamehameha V of European stone bricks (because he admired them) and modeled after European playhouses.

The theatre’s operational costs are usually covered by ticket sales and subsidies from organizations such as the State Foundation on Culture and Arts. The group has launched the careers of many Hawai‘i playwrights, including Alan Sutterfield, Victoria Nalani Knuebuhl, and Lee Cataluna—whose theatrical successes earned her a regular column in the Honolulu Advertiser.

This season Kumu Kahua mixes three new plays with three classics in order to attract new audiences while keeping the sizable crowds that originally attended the classics. The theatre can seat 100 to 300 people, depending on the way the stage is set up, and it creates an intimate setting for both thespian and audience.

This year it will open its doors by reprising a classic, Aloha Las Vegas. Originally staged in 1992, written by Edward Sakmoto, Aloha Las Vegas follows the life of an older man from the Liliha district of Honolulu. Wally Fukuda, a recently retired baker and widower, is visited by an old friend, Harry, who is now living in Las Vegas. Still not fully recovered from his wife’s death, Wally warms to the idea of a new life in Las Vegas. Before he can make the move, he must consult with his married son and his unmarried daughter, who opposes it. This heart-warming comedy provides a dose of thought-provoking realism for anyone who has had to move on.

The rest of the season is just as intriguing. The Conversion of Ka‘ahumanu, written by Victoria Nalani Kneubuhl, takes place after the death of Ka‘ahumanu husband King Kamehameha I, in 1891. Ka‘ahumanu, who became the most powerful political figure in Hawai‘i, persuaded her son Liholiho, King Kamehameha II, to abolish the Kapu system (on which were based the rights of the ali‘i to rule) and prohibit the worship of the gods.

This play examines Ka‘ahumanu’s decision to convert and the relationship that she developed with the missionaries in the process. First produced in Hawai‘i by Kumu Kahua in 1991, the play toured to American Samoa, Edinburgh, Washington, D.C., and Los Angeles. Christmas Talk Story 2002, written by a variety of local writers, recollects “small-kid-time” in a society where Christmas doesn’t bring snow— Hawai‘i. Perfect for the holiday season, this co-production with the Honolulu Theatre for Youth is filled with Christmas memories and original yuletide songs.

A Little Bit Like You, by Darrell H.Y. Lum, deals with the issues of being hapa (of mixed ethnicities). Kieko “Kay” Chang, a Japanese-Chinese girl, is visited by her late great-grandmother in the form of a humorous ghost. When her grandfather suffers a stroke and slips into a coma, Kay is privileged to gain further insights through his moving and speaking spirit. A success when first staged in 1991, this light-hearted comedy address familiar family issues and is a sure delight. Heads by Harry is adapted by Keith K. Kashiwada and John H.Y. Wat from the Lois-Ann Yamanaka novel. The Yaguu family runs a taxidermy shop in Hilo, and like all families, its members have their differences. ‘I‘oni, the middle child, is at odds with certain family members: a budding diva of a little sister, an older brother who has his heart set on being a hairdresser, and a stubborn father who refuses to let her in on the family business. Some pig-hunting neighbors don’t help. A compassionate, realistic, and sardonically irreverent tale.

King Kalakaua’s Poker Game, written by Alan Sutterfield, will close the season. Kalakaua, a lover of poker, is visited by Edwin Booth, an American actor. In the King’s favorite poker room, they are joined by a handsome young advisor to the king, a young ali‘i woman disguised as a man, a German count, an Italian courtier, Hawai‘i’s first picture bride, and Queen Julia Kapi‘olani. The line-up creates lots of action with high-stakes gambling, deception, two romances, international intrigue, a duel with pistols, and lots of laughs.

 

 

 

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