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Kumu Kahua Premieres Fanny and Belle (Stevenson)

By Rose McKenney, News editor

It was a time when women had very little influence in the world. A time when women were expected to just take care of their husband and children. Divorce was unheard of, and women in unhappy marriages were forced to stay in them or ruin their reputation and their family’s. Not Fanny Stevenson or her daughter Belle Osbourne as we see in Kumu Kahua’s world premiere of the play Fanny and Belle: The Story of Robert Louis Stevenson and Her Daughter Belle Osbourne. They break all the rules.



The play follows the lives of two exciting women, Fanny and Belle, the wife and her daughter of 19th century Robert Louis Stevenson, as they travel to parts of the world.

Fanny does something that most women during that time would never dream of. She divorces her first husband and marries the young Stevenson, a man 10 years younger than herself.

The play begins in Samoa, in 1915, as Belle is about to spread her mother’s ashes and continues in a flashback of memories of her mother and their life over a 60-year time frame. The story starts in 1856, when a young Fanny runs off with her first husband.

Fanny and Belle focuses on the relationship between a mother and daughter, but also on women discovering who they are and how they go about creating an identity for themselves. It’s a platform for women’s voices.

Belle’s memoirs, Fanny’s letters, and their own writings were the primary sources for the play, but some help came with the imagination of Victoria Nalani Kneubuhl.

In 1994, Kneubuhl received the Hawai‘i Award for Literature, an award given to writers for their body of work. In 1996, she received an Individual Artist Fellowship from the State Foundation on Culture and the Artists, and used it in her research of Fanny and Belle.

Kneubuhl first read Robert Louis Stevenson when she was just a little girl. She moved from his book of poetry for children to Treasure Island and Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. Then, at the age of 12, she went to visit her father’s family in Samoa and she hiked up to the Stevenson’s home and visited his grave.

Kneubuhl first found out about Fanny in a book called The Violent Friend: The Story of Mrs. Robert Louis Stevenson by Margaret Mackay.

Kneubuhl visited the University of California- Berkley’s Bancroft Library and found some of Fanny’s unpublished work. Then she went to the Silverado Museum in St. Helena, Calif., and was able to look through the Stevenson’s possessions including some of Belle’s early drawings and scrapbooks.

To bring Kneubuhl’s play to life is the job of director John Wat. At first Wat didn’t think he should do the play, because it was a very female-dominated drama. But he admirered Kneubuhl’s work, and loved Fanny and Belle and all of Kneubuhl’s previous plays, so he decided to chance it. (Wat had already directed one of Kneubuhl’s plays, Ola N Iwi.)

According to Wat, history is very male-dominated, so the play is a change in perspective that is very exciting.

In Fanny and Belle, Wat says, he gets to directs 10 talented actors and actresses.

The tight-knit cast includes: Jennifer Robideau, who plays Fanny, and Laura Bach, who plays Belle. Other cast members include Michelle Crush, Victoria Gail-White, Wil Kahele, James Rudy, Terri Seeborg, Eric Schonleber, Laurie TAanoura, and John Watson.

Fanny and Belle opens March 5 and runs Thursdays through Sundays until April 10 at Kumu Kahua Theatre, located on 46 Merchant St.

Admission is $10 for students, $16 for general audiences, and $13 for senior citizens and groups of 10 or more. Thursdays are discount day. Students pay only $5 when they show their ID.
For tickets, call 536-4441.


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