Monday, May 13, 2013

Closing Thoughts One: Belles and Breauxs, Love

I’m starting a new tradition. After completing a show, I will write…something. This, for instance. Okay, preamble complete. Ready... Yesterday was the final show for The Belle’s Stratagem at TAG. The experience, like all theatre experiences, was worth writing about, at the very least. If I stop just now to think what am I left with, I come to this: love. Theatre is love, or, potentially so. Absolute love. That’s why it’s so risky. That’s why it’s terrifying. Because, as we all know, love hurts...(cue Aerosmith—that's the version I hear).

I conjured this idea—that theatre should be terrifying—somewhere around the middle of the run. It was foggy. Something I came to in a daydream, the threads lost in awakening like a breath of smoke. Only the maxim remained: all theatre should be terrifying—because all real emotion is terrifying. I posted it on facebook. A conversation ensued. The gist of the engaged POVs—which I thoroughly appreciate, as conversation is a beautiful way in which to think and that is why I love facebook—was that emotion isn’t the point of all theatre and that telling the story is the most important factor in theatre, to which I  replied, in short, yes, telling the story is most important, and any story worth telling should involve emotion, somewhere, somehow.

At that time, I didn’t fully realize what it all meant. I felt it, but I couldn’t articulate it because it wasn’t words yet—it wasn’t thought: it was emotion. It was terrifying, and exquisite.

Here it is as I ken it now, as best I can.

Every story is worth telling. Every play, every tale, every word is worth it, if you make it worth it. And how do you make it so? Simple (but not). All the people involved have to decide, together, to love what they are doing. They all have to feel it. Without that love, even the “best” story will fail. And that love is what’s so terrifying. This isn’t superficial veneer you spread over your performance like icing. This is connection, devotion, submission, passion, attention—or at least the attempt for all that. How often do you love—or try to love—like that for any extended period of time? Seriously, terrifying. And it’s a whole group of you doing it. My goodness. Together. Closeness and trust. Vulnerability and fulfillment.

It’s all about the love.

Love. Not like a hallmark card or a “love ya! ;)”—but the gift of authentic energy converted straight from one’s soul.

That’s the potential of theatre: exquisite, and terrifying.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

A Brilliant Glass-Half-Full Spectacle – ALICE IN WONDERLAND at LT

The anticipation of seeing Alice in Wonderland had me giddy—the characters, the wordplay, the wonder, and, not to be forgotten in such a fabulous list, young Alice herself; after all, Wonderland represents the inner-workings of her child-mind. At least that’s the publicized theory behind this production: Jungian psychology. 

Photo (stolen from facebook) Credit: Raymond Rivera
Leeward Theatre, director Betty Burdick, and designers John Signor, Donald J. Ranney, Jr., Sarah Whitehead, Mark Kalani Imaizumi, Chelsea Campbell, Cocoa Chandelier, and Johathan Reyn present a landscape of enchantment inhabited by brilliantly decorated characters. The spectacle of colorful set pieces, props, costumes, makeup and lighting combine with musical notes of tantalizingly mysterious charm to draw the viewer deep down the rabbit hole.

Alice, played by Tina Uyeno, alternates regularly between practiced and polished wonder, contempt, and gladness, all delivered with singsong intonation. She treats the role with exaggerated monotony rather than the boundless imagination and honesty of true childhood—a regrettable trap in which to fall because the entire world of the play depends upon her interaction for vitality and continuity.

There are moments of captivating delight on this episodic journey as well as moments of awkwardness. The show is in fact a musical, with many key characters breaking into songs of varying styles, like punk rock, jazz, and rap. This would work well if there were some compelling indication that Alice’s psyche gives birth to each moment, each character, each song, each episode—but that’s a hard sell. The production could benefit from a few more signals or patterns for our puzzle-loving brains to put it all together, especially from Alice.
The show boasts creative choreography, with bodies flipping, climbing, and bouncing in multiple directions. Torsos and limbs become parts of the set. The flower garden, with a cluster of giggling Daisies, an unflappable Tiger Lily (Jasmine Kaleihiwa Dunlap), a sassy Rose (Kehaulani Brown), and shimmying Larkspurs (Jaime Bradner and Rachael Souza), sets the imagination free in its delicately balanced simplicity. For this moment of the play, talking flowers live. Wonderland exists. The actors and the characters fit together as one, each component neither too bold nor too bland. And, they’re having fun. It’s obvious that these flowers/actors enjoy every line, laugh, and lilt of petal. Enjoyment tends to be infectious, especially from stage to audience. 

Other actors find comparable success at filling their flamboyant roles because they exhibit similar symptoms of uninhibited playfulness. Leeward veterans Reb Beau Allen (Mad Hatter) and Shawn Anthony Thomsen (Mock Turtle) are crowd favorites for precisely this quality.

There are a number of endearing elements to this production, such as the Oyster chorus (where each member’s head is a pearl), the Tea Party scene (with a sexy March Hare—Melissa Kenigton—and an adorably drowsy Dormouse—Michelle Umipeg), the comic Gryphon (Shaiden Nagai), and Alice’s encounter with the Red Queen (Andrea Valencia), whose tender yet domineering ways did seem like a projection of Alice’s psyche. Plus, the whole thing is modernized, with TV screens projecting iPhone-style text messages to define particular words, like queer, for instance. 

Leeward’s Alice ambitiously creates one of the most awesome and extravagant versions of Wonderland this side of the looking glass, a design-team-gone-wild world. For those of us with certain high hopes and expectations when it comes to one of the most beloved made up places of all time, this Wonderland will likely confound, amaze, enervate, and please.

NOVEMBER 9-10, 15-17, 2012  8PM
NOVEMBER 11, 2012 4PM
$23 Adults
$20 Students, Seniors, Military
$15 under 12
Receive $5 off listed price when you purchase in advance!

Monday, November 12, 2012

Questions Raised by Frames – UNCLE VANYA AND ZOMBIES at KT

The trick to why television and movies are so popular, so prevalent, so everyday, has to do with catharsis. The average person can experience the world without ever leaving the couch. We believe what we see on the screen enough to have physical reactions: an increase in heart rate, an outburst of laughter, the welling of tears in our eyes. Theatre, with its obviously constructed nature, isn’t able to match the believability of film, no matter how hard a production may try. This could be seen as a limitation, but only if the object of a play is to be as “real” as what’s on screen. A better objective might be to play with the very idea of realness, believability, and the human desire for catharsis. This is what Uncle Vanya and Zombies does.

The play is actually a play within the frame of a reality TV show within the frame of a theatre within the frame of a Zombie-infested version of O‘ahu. The contestants are acting in Chekhov’s classic in the hopes of winning a ticket to the mainland. While performing, they must fend off zombies, stay in character, remember their lines, and not die and turn into zombies. Two TV host personalities introduce the audience to the concept, while ostensibly also speaking to the viewers at home. The series, we are told repeatedly, has raised millions in relief funds for the victims of Pearl Harbor II, the nuclear accident that resulted in all the zombies.

This show is funny. The many frames, including a giant electric fence surrounding the set, separate the audience from a genuine emotional connection to anyone or anything on stage. The characters in the play aren’t real—they’re just part of a reality show. The contestants aren’t real—they’re just actors. The hosts aren’t real because this is all some kind of big joke. We, the audience, aren’t even real—we’re acting too. We’re in on the joke. So we laugh. Look at them trying to perform a play while spastic zombies attack. So ridiculous. As if a show like this could ever really exist. As if human beings could be so crass. Listen to how the lines in the play relate to the made-up situation for which the play is being performed. The corruption and greed of humanity. How desperate people are, whether because of love or zombies. How clever! Ha-ha!

For those who might wonder why Vanya and zombies, “Chekhov expert” Craig Howes comes in between rounds to give a mini-lecture, culminating with the idea of consumption. We are consumers—we are consumed. Physically, mentally, literally, and metaphorically.

The frameworks that serve to distance also indict the audience. Director Markus Wessendorf includes the spectator and says, look at these pathetic people, see how they suffer, isn’t it wonderful?, and when we nod our heads and laugh, we comply. Wesserndorf employs the concepts of influential German theatre revolutionary Bertolt Brecht (which is not surprising given that he engineered Hawai‘i’s very own Brecht Festival a couple of years back). While Vanya and Zombies superficially provides clever entertainment for the zombie-loving masses, sociopolitical messages confront the audience on a more subliminal level, raising thought-provoking questions: Why is suffering entertaining? Why do we laugh as characters fight for their lives?

The messages, not restricted to the play, reflect other public entertainment venues. Why do crowds boo injured players on the football field just because they didn’t catch a ball? Or why do they cheer at home if the suffering player is on the other team? Beyond that, we now have fantasy sports, where people pick and choose live players as if they were pieces on a virtual board game. Mass entertainment allows for the dehumanization of contestants, and yet pretend characters on our favorite TV shows bring us to tears.

I can imagine this production staged with audience on all sides, as opposed to proscenium, like a sporting event. The proximity of audience members to the actor-contestants (and zombies) probably would have raised the stakes. The whole production could have been more interactive, energizing, and poignant, while still providing distance created by the multiple frames—a mental rather than physical difference. As it was, the audience neither cheered nor cried. We laughed. And so I wonder how many felt confronted with the questions I found after meditating on what I had seen. The detachment, I fear, may have been too complete, leaving many merely entertained. Then again, perhaps I’m not giving the zombie-loving masses enough credit.

Tickets and Showtimes

Nov 9, 10, 15, 16, 17 at 8pm
Nov 18 at 2pm
Regular: $24.00
Seniors, Military, UH Faculty/Staff: $22.00
UHAA Members: $15.00
Students: $13.00
UH Manoa Students with Valid ID: $5.00

Thursday, October 4, 2012

Pupu with the Living Dead

Historical figures come back to life in the Mission Cemetery

If all the world’s a stage, that must include graveyards. And what better location for bringing back to life long-dead historical people of Hawai‘i’s history than in a cemetery—at the very spot where their remains lie buried? Cemetary Pupu Theatre, presented by Hawaiian Mission Houses Historic Site and Archives, is back with an all-new cast of prominent departed Hawai‘i residents. 

Ha‘o rises from Kanui’s grave
Photo courtesy of Mission Houses
Each character has been thoroughly researched and the monologues are all based on historical, documented fact. This season, patrons will meet an array of intriguing persons, with each monologue scripted by Zach Thomas, who also plays the part of Reverend Hiram Bingham. Other characters include: William Kanui, played by William Ha‘o, one of only two native Hawaiians buried in the Mission Cemetery; Mary Tenney Castle, played by Jo Pruden, of the famed Castle Trust; William Beals—a hapa under the care of Sybil Bingham, the reverend’s wife; and Anna Rice Cooke, who founded the Honolulu Academy of Arts.

“I think people might be surprised at what they learn,” said Mike Smola of Mission Houses. “They might not know, for example, that many Hawaiians went to the gold rush in California.”

“And Hiram Bingham was beat up by a mob of sailors” he disclosed. “But people will have to come down to find out why.”

The evening will feature pupu and drinks from 5-6pm, then the cemetery tour until 8pm, followed by more pupu and more drinks, which is good, because connecting with the dead can work up a serious appetite.

Smola emphasized the bigger emotional connection to history this kind of experience provides. “People are interested in the gravestones after. They want to get close and really look at them.” Now that’s something you couldn’t do in any old theatre.

[Mission Cemetery (assemble at the Mission Houses, 553 S. King St.), Fri-Sat, 10/5-10/13, 5-9pm, $60, [], 447-3926]

Monday, September 24, 2012

Cuz That's What the Play's About — ONE COMEDY OF ERRAS at KKT

Shawn Anthony Thomsen is not only my friend, but also one of my theatre heroes. Not the kind of hero that basks in the glory of constant praise with puffed-out chest and arms akimbo. The kind of hero that works long and hard, day after day, for all the right reasons. The kind with a touch of genius tempered by a dash of humility. A seriously gifted sense of humor balanced by an acute sense of seriousness.

Photo by Jonathan Reyn (stolen from Shawn Thomsen's facebook page)
OK, he’s not dead or anything. He’s just directing his first show at Kumu Kahua Theatre. And, in my obviously biased opinion, he kills it. Given a script loaded with stereotypical and not-so-stereotypical Honolulu characters, twists and turns, talktalktalk, hitting, yelling, singing, insulting, and then some, it’s hard to imagine a director actually adding and layering. But that’s exactly what Thomsen does. He embraces Taurie Kinoshita’s One Comedy of Erras, wraps his arms around it, caresses it, shapes it, leaves his fingerprints all over it. In the tradition of Kumu’s Artistic Director Harry Wong III, Thomsen makes theatre that is a celebration of the artform and the unique qualities of this particular play.

What I especially enjoyed about this production is the way themes are magnified and compounded through the choices made.

Hawai‘i is a place where people keep time a little differently than, say, in Hartford, Connecticut. What’s the rush? Why not relax a little longer, talk story, enjoy good company? From the very beginning, it’s clear that this production is in no rush to get where it’ll somehow eventually end up. And that makes sense. That’s what the play’s about. Realizing this, the second act delightfully rolls out one scene after another, each more elaborate and unexpected than the previous.

Hawai‘i is a place where all types of people are accepted for who they are and who they choose to be. We no judge, K. We not all stuckedy uppity, “you not the right kine person for this kine part cuz you no look, act, dress the right way.” That’s what the play’s about.

Hawai‘i is a place where we know how to laugh, but where we also care, a lot. That’s what the play’s about.

There’s only one weekend left to see this show, and it’ll probably be all sold out before long cuz everyone like wait till the last minute cuz all ste on Hawai‘i time, and so I almost didn’t bother writing a review. But then I thought, why not? Only take a little bit time for sit and think and tell my one opinion. And so here it is. Cuz that’s what Enter Offstage is about.

Runs through 9/30 at Kumu Kahua Theatre

Sunday, June 24, 2012

Superficial Authenticity — A DOLL'S HOUSE at TAG

Henrik Ibsen’s A Doll’s House is a very “well made” play. It follows all of Aristotle’s rules about unity, telling a detailed story without jumping around in time or changing the scene location. This is an old fashioned play and TAG’s Brad Powell delivers an old fashioned production. You can almost imagine it as a film in black and white.

Roberge, Jones, & Farmer
Courtesy of TAG—The Actors' Group
But this is a play. Live and in color. Which is good, because otherwise you’d miss how lovely the set and costumes are. The small theatre abounds in detail, from the stove to the picture window to the decorated Christmas tree and so much more. Andy Alvarado has truly outdone himself. Carlynn Wolfe’s and Christine Valles’s costumes complete the transportation to 1890’s Norway.

The story centers on Nora and the moment when her world, or what she imagines it to be, dissolves. And beyond the mirage she finds the mirror, and faces, for the first time in her life, unadorned reality. This production actually features a mirror, in which Nora likes to gaze at her pretty reflection, exemplifying her preoccupation with superficiality.

The actors tell the story quite well, each playing his or her part in the melodrama, some more mellow and some more drama. Anemone Jones has the part of Nora. Her portrayal is energetic and very committed, though a touch disconnected at times, especially in scenes with her husband, Torvald Helmer, played by Aaron Roberge, who has about as much charisma as a dead fish in this role, which, I suppose, is his interpretation of Torvald’s character.

The chemistry lacking between husband and wife ought to be made up for by Nora’s relationship with Torvald’s good friend Dr. Rank, played by David C. Farmer. The idea is that Nora and Dr. Rank have developed an intimate relationship—too intimate, though Nora pretends the whole thing is perfectly innocent. Unfortunately, in this production, there’s no sexual tension at all. This Doll’s House is built in a world a bit more PG than I expected.

Some of the very best moments in the show happen during scenes featuring Nora and her old friend just arrived on the scene, Kristine, played by Sara Cate Langham. The women—as is so often true—are the ones with the real chemistry. When watching Jones and Langham, the world of the play truly fills the space of the theatre, and instead of two actresses, there are two women, Nora and Kristine, seeing one another again after many years of separation.

Despite my partially unfulfilled expectations—something bound to happen with such an iconic play—this is absolutely a show worth seeing. The actors are competent if not excellent, the design elements show TAG at its best, and the flavor of the original play saturates the air of the theatre somehow. There is something very authentic about this production, while at the same time there is something rather superficial. A melodrama. A reflection and a mirage. Like Nora. And like society or civilization or whatever you might label the illusion of order we humans so desperately crave.

[runs through Sunday, July 1. Thursday-Saturdays, 7:30 pm, Sunday matinees, 2 pm, 650 Iwilei Road, Suite 101,, 722-6941]

Saturday, June 23, 2012

Halloween Comes Early to Honolulu — JANE AUSTEN ZOMBIE APOCALYPSE at AMG

by Guest Contributor
Becky McGarvey

There was a large turnout at the ARTS at Marks Garage this past Thursday. Although the art exhibit (pottery by local artists) was beautiful and would have drawn a crowd on its own, this particular crowd was excited to be the first to see a special preview performance of On The Spot's Jane Austen Zombie Apocalypse, which turned out to be the best play I've seen all year.

[Photo taken from Jedi M. Aster's Facebook album]
Jane Austen Zombie Apocalypse is exactly what it sounds like. But instead of just being yet another play/book/movie to rent space in the recent popular zombie trend, Zombie Apocalypse is a very well-written, well-acted, well-done production that has what so many popular plays/books/movies are missing these days—a good story.

The play follows main character Katherine Montgomery­—played by Lisa Anne Nilsen—a strong young woman who likes to play with pistols and rapiers. All of England is beset by zombies and while the men go to the front lines to fight the invasion, Katherine Montgomery and her family continue to try and live life as normally as possible, worrying over future husbands and inheritances.

Writer/Director Garrick Paikai uses his comedic timing to lure the audience into a sense of security, employing familiar Jane Austin quotes and basing his characters on her famous characters. Just when you start to think it's too much like a book you were forced to read in high school, and later forced to watch with your girlfriend when it became a movie, the director takes you in a completely different direction and keeps true to the unique story of these characters. The tale is rich with twists and turns, and although the characters are based on characters that have been written before, they are all endearing, funny, and captivating in their own right. The actors play them with such conviction that they are creatively special. Each one has moments throughout the play where they are spot-lit with brilliance and the actors move their audience from broken ribs to broken hearts.

Nilsen is a formidable heroine. With a great emotional range and impressive stage fighting skills, she suspends belief and gives rightful respect to Tony Pisculli's fight choreography, which cannot be easy in such a small performance space. Alice and Mrs. Montgomery, played by Britni “Lolli” Keltz and Alissa Joy Lee, are incredibly endearing and add a nice sparkly contrast to Katherine's stronger character, and they know how to charm an audience.

Equally charming are the men, from brooding and handsome to lovesick and silly; it is rare to see a work with a large and satisfying male cast. Edward Fallon and his associate John Radcliffe, played by JEDI and Dezmond Gilla, are the perfect English gentlemen; at times we forget we're in Hawai‘i. Sweet George Price, played by stage veteran Stu Hirayama, is consistent from his first entrance as a poor man with a heart of 24k gold. Guest Contributor to our own Enter Offstage, Marcus Lee is perfectly ridiculous as George Elliot: a self-important, pompous creep. Yet you don't have much time to dislike him while you're laughing.

The true comedic stars, however, are Mr. Simon and Mr. Frost, two cockney elements that trick your mind even further into believing we're all sitting in zombie-infested England. Played by Jose R. Ver and Jose Dynamite, this duo plays with the audience, alluding to the fact they're in a play, offering little comedic escapes from the zombies, and also providing explanations for holes in the story that the writer openly and proudly pokes fun at.

This is still very much a play about a zombie apocalypse. Alissa Joy Lee, as the make-up artist for the zombies, creates truly horrifying creatures. Although the zombies have no speaking parts, they are unbelievably scary and have no qualms about getting too close to an audience member, and grabbing them. A creepy soundtrack by sound designer R Kevin Garcia Doyle and composer Art Koshi, combined with a fog machine, are in no way helpful. It is advised you see this play with someone who is not squeamish, or who won't mind if the squeamish ones hold their hand a little too tightly.

This is very much a players' play: from melting the fourth wall to clever blocking to the transformation of the single set, if you are a theatre person you are in for a tasty treat. Not to say that non-theatre people won’t appreciate the comedy or the references, but they may not understand how really impressively clever some of them are. There are hidden elements of improv that are only revealed through a directors note in the program, and the technical crew turning red from trying not to laugh.

Whether you're an avid Jane Austen fan or an avid zombie fan, go see Jane Austen Zombie Apocalypse this or next weekend. You will be bitten and mutate into an avid theatre fan. As an original work, if you do not leave the theatre scared or hurting from laughing, you will, at least, be impressed.

[Two weekends only; 8:00pm on June 22-23 & 28-30 and on June 23 and July 1 at 4:00pm at The ARTS at Marks Garage. Tickets are $20 general and $15 for students. Sunday matinee shows are $15.]