Saturday, November 6, 2004

Darryl Tsutsui and Kati Kuroda star in Kennedy Theatre's revival of Edward Sakamoto's "Manoa Valley."

Growing pains afflict
‘Manoa Valley’ revival

It's almost always interesting to revisit a play that once captured the public imagination. Kennedy Theatre's revival of Edward Sakamoto's "Manoa Valley" puts the story in a context that did not exist when it was first staged here in 1982.

Overall, the play does not disappoint. Most of the problems with this 2004 staging are the result of the play's genesis and evolution, and not the fault of the playwright.

"Manoa Valley": Presented by the University of Hawaii at Manoa Department of Theatre and Dance at Kennedy Theatre. Runs at 8 tonight and at 2 p.m. tomorrow. Tickets are $15 general; $12 for seniors, military, UH faculty and staff; $10 non-UH students; $3 UH students with Fall ID. Call 956-7655.

Sakamoto wrote "Manoa Valley" in 1980 as a 40-minute play. University of Hawaii at Manoa faculty member Glenn Cannon requested that he expand the original story into the two-act play that Cannon directed at Kennedy Theatre in 1982. No one could have foreseen in 1980 or 1982 that "Manoa Valley" would become the middle section of a trilogy. It's understandable then that Sakamoto uses chunks of dialogue to tell the audience things about the Kamiya family by having characters reminiscence about things they already know.

There is also a problematic new ending that grafts a moment of grotesque and improbable broad comedy onto an otherwise engaging story that needs no such tampering.

The story takes place on the day that Hawaii officially became the 50th state. Tosh Kamiya is planning to celebrate the big day, and his oldest child, Laura, arrives to help with the preparations, accompanied by her cruelly henpecked husband, Toku. Next comes Tosh's older brother, Aki, who brings his wife, their son and daughter-in-law, their grandchild, and a live chicken in a box.

Their stories play out gradually, and several timeless local issues are examined.

Tosh, a successful contractor, is expecting big things from statehood and is looking forward to grooming his only son, Spencer, as his successor. Little does Tosh know that Spencer wants to pursue a career in aerospace engineering.

Tosh's nephew, Nobu, went to the mainland to study law and has returned with political ambitions and a Caucasian wife, Susan, who is, stereotypically, still having problems pronouncing Hawaiian street names. The couple's child is the first grandchild for either of the Kamiya brothers, and it becomes evident that Tosh and his wife, Fumiko, are wondering how much longer it will be before Laura produces a grandchild or two for them.

There are also subtler issues. We're told that Susan's father objects to her marrying a Japanese American, and it seems that Nobu's mother may not have been happy about having a non-Japanese-American daughter-in-law. And, would Laura be as bitter and abusive as she is if she were not frustrated at being relegated to the traditional role of Japanese baby-maker while her younger brother is catered to?

Alvin Chan stands out as the spoiled and indulged only son who has coasted through life but now has a goal he's willing to work, and fight, for.

Kristen S. Nonaka is charming as Debbie, Tosh's second daughter, an irrepressible 14-year-old tomboy who rattles on at one point about working as a stripper but who later sounds just as serious about becoming Hawaii's first female governor.

Stan Egi (Tosh) and Darryl Tsutsui (Aki) are nicely balanced as the brothers whose rambling conversations about their traditional Japanese father serve as the dramatic catalyst for Tosh's sudden epiphany about the importance of accepting Spencer's goals and recognizing Laura's value to the family.

Chris Masato Doi's use of a more formal, pidgin-free speaking style effectively identifies him as the "haolified" one who has returned home with less-insular views. Tom Michelsen (Toku) deserves mention for having sacrificed his real hair in order to show how horribly Laura botched the job of giving her husband a haircut.

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