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The Conversion of Ka'ahumanu

by Melissa McCracken, staff writer


The Conversion of Ka‘ahumanu focuses on missionary and Hawaiian women including Ka‘ahumanu, who responded to personal and cultural changes and transforming events following Western contact.

The most powerful political figure to emerge in Hawai‘i after the death of Kamehameha, in 1819, was his wife, Ka‘ahumanu. Concerned with the unfair treatment of women, she used her self-created advisory post of

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kuhina nui to persuade the new king, Liholiho, to abolish the kapu and prohibit the worship of the gods. When the missionaries came she first resisted and then converted to Christianity after a near-fatal illness. She then encouraged her followers to embrace the new law.

Director, Kelly Williams said, “A lot of the events came from real journals in the Mission Houses. The playwright,[Victoria Nalani Kneubuhl] gave me a lot of feedback [on the historical aspect].”

“I thought it was very moving, because the words were powerful, and there was no need for props because when they spoke, you felt it,” said audience member and Kapiolani Community College student Laymya Moualem. “In Lucy Thurston’s monologue about her breast surgery, I actually had to look away as she described the procedure.”

Williams' novel approach to the music highlighted the actresses’ emotions. Working with choreographer Nara M. M. Springer Cardenas, Williams used traditional Hawaiian instruments to parallel the women’s emotions, from fear to anticipation to desperation. Her rhythms added a beat to the play, giving it life. Musician Summer Duarte was the glue that bound the words to the players.

The acting was impressive; the cast professional and dedicated. Anne Marie MacPherson, who played missionary wife Sybil Bingham, delivered powerful monologues with the conviction and heart of a real struggling missionary. Each woman had equally powerful roles and their own moments to stand out.

The actresses turned what could have been a dry topic into a series of anticipatory events leaving the audience to wonder, what will happen next?

Overall, The Conversion of Ka‘ahumanu was a thought- provoking piece of history made real again by its excellent script, cast, and direction. It is definitely a play worth seeing.


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