Friday, October 8, 2004


Jakara Mato plays Mary Jane Wilkes in the production of "Big River," at Paliku Theater on the campus of Windward Community College.

Back in the river

Jakara Mato returns to
the stage for a Huck Finn


Saturday, October 9, 2004

» Jakara Mato, appearing in Paliku Theatre's production of "Big River," most recently appeared in "Gypsy," put on by the Army Community Theatre. An article on Page 25 of yesterday's Weekend section erroneously identified the production as being staged by Diamond Head Theatre.

The Honolulu Star-Bulletin strives to make its news report fair and accurate. If you have a question or comment about news coverage, call Editor Frank Bridgewater at 529-4791 or email him at corrections@starbulletin.com.

Jakara Mato was last seen on the Diamond Head Theatre stage last fall in "Gypsy," playing a terrified teenager whose mother was forcing her to become a stripper. Now she's bringing that same intensity and attention to detail to her portrayal of Mary Jane Wilkes in the Paliku Theatre production of "Big River."

"Big River"

Where: Paliku Theatre, Windward Community College

When: 7:30 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays, and 4 p.m. Sundays, through Nov. 7

Tickets: $26 general, $22 for military and seniors 62 and over, $18 students and children

Call: 235-7433

The show, a sanitized musical adaptation of the Mark Twain novel, "The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn," opens tonight at the Windward Community College theater with Sean Jones as Huck, and John Bryan portraying the runaway slave, Jim.

Mato spent hours researching what life was like in Missouri, a state where slavery was legal, in the 1840s.

"I like history, and you get to research (a role), so it's almost like an extension of schooling and education. Not only do you do research on the history of the time, but you also get to live the role and live so many lives besides your own," Mato said.

"I started with my U.S. history book and read all about the 1840s, then I went online and looked at different pictures, especially the costumes and hairstyles of that time. I also read the novel, so I got a lot of perspective from that, too."

Mato also borrowed a CD on how to do authentic regional accents, and was planning to watch "Gone With the Wind" to get a sense of how women maneuvered in those huge floor-length hoop skirts that were the height of fashion back then.

"The big hoop skirt that I wear under my dress is really fun to wear. It's so feminine, but if I sit down, I always have to sit on the very edge of my seat so it doesn't fly up, and I keep my hands on my lap to keep it down."

Twain's novel generated controversy almost from the day it was published well over a century ago, and still ranks with "Catcher In the Rye" as one of the books most often singled out for removal from libraries. It has also been attacked by guardians of political correctness who took offense at Twain's savage satirical attacks on the manners and mores of white Americans in antebellum Missouri, and for his use of the word "nigger."

William Hauptman and Roger Miller reworked the story for Broadway as "Big River," which would go on to win seven Tony Awards in 1985. Among the changes was a romance between Huck, who is perhaps 13, and Mary Jane Wilkes, who is an adult in Twain's novel, but is instead approximately Huck's age in the musical.

MATO GOT word that she'd play Mary Jane the same day she found out that she'd gotten a supporting role in the TV cop drama "Hawaii." She played the friend of a runaway teenage prostitute in an episode titled "Lost and Found."

She found doing the TV show was great training.

"When I went in to audition, I had to do a performance, and they told me, 'That was a 20 ... but we want you to be a 2,' so I toned it way down. When you're on TV, the camera is right there and the audience is like four inches from your face, whereas when you're on stage in a theater, you have to adjust your facial movements and your body movements accordingly.

"It's very interesting the way (television directors) can cut it. ... You give them many different takes and different levels of intensity and then they can cut it the way they see it work. (In theater), you just have to hope everything works."

Besides acting, her course load at Iolani School includes advanced placement U.S. history, chemistry, pre-calculus, Japanese, dance and two English classes. Fortunately, Iolani considers her work in theater as community service, an increasingly important consideration in recent years, since many colleges and universities place just as much emphasis on it as the grades and SAT scores of applicants.

Mato said she put in "almost 200 hours" of community service doing "Gypsy," racked up another chunk of hours last spring in the ensemble of Army Community Theatre's "Camelot," and hopes to do at least one more show before the end of the school year.

As for the future, Mato would love do theater professionally, but says she has to be realistic.

"I don't know if it's possible for me to do this as a living. In my dreams, of course, it would be, but I have to think about reality, too. I definitely see theater in my life in some way, whether it's community or professional, because it's my favorite thing to do in the world."

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