Monday, January 13, 2003

Marya Takamori-Prickett, left, tended to a fallen Roddy Kwock during a recent rehearsal of Kumu Kahua Theatre's "A Little Bit Like You." Director Dann Seki, center, supervised the scene, which included cast members, from left, Alissa Lee, Kathy Hunter, Scot Izuka, Lisa Lum and Florence Chang.

Hawaii family’s trials
resonate across time
and ethnic barriers

"A Little Bit Like You"
Continues at 8 p.m. Thursdays through Saturdays, and 2 p.m. Sundays through Feb. 9 at Kumu Kahua Theatre. Tickets are $13 to $16. Call 536-4441.

Review by John Berger

Many families have secrets that trickle down through generations with unpredictable consequences. A young woman's discovery that her family tree may have unacknowledged roots and branches becomes the catalyst for self-discovery in Kumu Kahua's third production of Darrell H.Y. Lum's always-popular "A Little Bit Like You."

Those who enjoyed the first two productions almost 10 years ago will find this one well worth seeing as well. Director Dann Seki and his cast succeed in hitting both the comic and poignant facets of Lum's story with good effect, while keeping the flow of the story smooth and well-focused.

The experiences of Lum's protagonist, contemporary island teenager Keiko "Kay" Chang, resonate across ethnic or racial boundaries. All she wants to do is hang with her friends, but her grandfather, Jiro Sakamoto, embarrasses her by scavenging for aluminum cans in the neighborhood park and calling her his "little mejiro." He even asks her to haul sacks of cans for him!

Then there's grandmother Kiyoko, neurotic and semi-senile, who never forgave Keiko's mother, Emi, for disgracing the family by marring a Chinese.

Keiko's odyssey begins after Jiro collapses and is hospitalized in a coma and near death. It's then that Keiko slowly becomes aware of the spiritual presence of her great-grandmother and a mysterious manapua man who apparently has some connection to the family. Keiko also finds to her surprise that she can talk with her comatose grandfather.

At this point, "A Little Bit Like You" moves into fantasy and the primary message -- that we are all "a little bit like" our ancestors and other relatives -- is explored from several angles. There are the issues of family ties and personal identity, the importance of communication, and the complex emotions involved in letting go of the dead and dying. Lum's core characters are Asian, but their emotional experiences are relevant to Americans of European, African or Polynesian ancestry.

The story benefits from the prior experience of director Seki, who played Jiro in Kumu Kahua's previous productions, and who has assembled a cast whose strength overall eclipses a weak point or two.

Roddy Kwock (Jiro) needs much more than gray-dusted hair to look the part of Keiko's elderly grandfather, but plays well otherwise.

Florence Chang (Kiyoko), who appears somewhat closer to the age of the character, gives a Po'okela-worthy performance in what is -- in this staging of the play -- the dominant role. Chang brings out all the key facets of the character with such skill that while few will condone Kiyoko's racism or the emotional abuse she inflicts on her daughter, it gradually becomes possible to appreciate the sources of her bitterness.

Scot Azuka adds a consistent solid dignity as the enigmatic manapua man.

Lisa T.K.O. Lum is instantly appealing as Keiko -- believable both as a local teen and as a young woman trying to make sense of life while talking to the dead. The irksome nails-on-a-blackboard ambiance that Kathy Hunter (Nalani "Bunny" Ahuna) brings to her early scenes as Keiko's vapid "friend" sets a benchmark that allows us to observe that character's emotional growth as well.

Marya A. Takamori-Prickett and Alissa Joy Lee are given much less to work with in the roles of Keiko's mother and great-grandmother, respectively, but both do their parts.

Those seeing "A Little Bit Like You" for the first time should be prepared for the ways Darrell Lum blurs boundaries of time and space (for instance, the long-dead manapua man occasionally slips manapuas to the living). It can also take a moment to figure out whether Kwock is playing Jiro or completely unrelated characters in the scenes in which Kiyoko, suffering from momentary dementia, tries to catch a bus that will take her from Honolulu to Hilo.

Kelly Berry (set design) and John H.Y. Wat (prop design) add the minimalist set and related items that allow the mind to imagine the various locales in which the story takes place.

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