Saturday, December 4, 2004


The cast in the University of Hawaii Kennedy Theater Production of "Jaguar Priests" raps a modern theme.

‘Jaguar Priests’ questions
the development
of human society

Would we be better off if the development of human society had stopped when we were all still at the hunter/gatherer stage? University of Hawaii at Manoa student director/playwright Cristian E. Ellauri appears to be answering that question in the affirmative with his new play, "Jaguar Priests: Our Culture Is A Myth," in the Ernst Lab Theatre.

"Jaguar Priests: Our Culture Is Myth," presented by the University of Hawaii at Manoa Department of Theatre and Dance at Ernst Lab Theatre 8 p.m. today and 2 p.m. tomorrow. Tickets are $10 general; $8 for seniors, military, UH faculty/staff and non-UH students; and $3 for UH students. Call 956-7655.

Ellauri shows the development of agriculture and related technology leading to cities, empires, slavery, the industrial revolution, assembly line drudgery and world-wide pollution.

Adam and Eve provoke the wrath of the other members of their nomadic hunter/gatherer tribe by suggesting that raising food could lead to a better life. They're about to become human sacrifices when the "ceremony" is interrupted by Gotti, a member of a warlike raiding tribe "led by men," who also sees the wisdom of staying in one place and growing food.

Fast forward to 1500 B.C. and Adam and Eve are the king and queen of Babylon, Gotti commands the Babylonian army, and the couple's sons, Cain and Abel, are at odds over the empire's future. Cain is keen on technology, and wants to keep putting more land under the plow and capturing more slaves to work on it. Abel feels the hunter/gathers on the edges of the empire should be allowed to live in peace, and attempts to convince them of his good intentions.

The scenarios repeat after intermission. Adam and Eve are living in pre-industrial America and anticipate the economic advantages of industrialization. Their elders argue that traditional hand-crafting is better even if it means fewer goods are available. Gotti -- this time a wealthy entrepreneur -- agrees with Adam and Eve, and forecloses on their parents' shop so that a modern factory can be built.

Fast forward to 2004 and the family corporation, Global One, is spreading toxic pollution throughout the Third World and planning to expel a group of hip-hoppers from their hang-out near the corporate headquarters. Adam and Eve are again pondering which of their sons should take over the corporation, putting Cain and Abel at odds. Cain and Gotti are for expansion. Abel wants to befriend the street performers.

ELLAURI TELLS an interesting, albeit extremely slow-paced story, that makes a fine exercise in stage performance techniques but overlooks a few key points as a socio-political statement.

First, most Americans -- hip-hoppers and rap stars included -- are quite content to maintain a economic lifestyle that consumes a stupefying amount of the world's resources regardless of the pollution and other problems this causes elsewhere. Second, few of us would willingly go back to a pre-industrial lifestyle with no electricity, motor vehicles or modern plumbing, and life as subsistence farmers.

Jonathan Clarke Sypert (Adam) and Darnna Banks (Eve) are nicely matched as the two child-prophets who struggle against the guardians of the status quo. Savada J. "G-Mo" Gilmore (Cain) and Jazumin "Lumenz" Davis (Abel) do much of the heavy lifting in articulating Ellauri's thoughts on issues such as growth, ownership, science, the means and methods of production, and the fact that "history is written by the winners." Alexander Hubbard (Gotti) completes the core cast of "immortals" and succeeds in exuding menace throughout.

The athletic ability of the four men serves them well in numerous combat scenes.

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