Thursday, May 19, 2005


Ty (Gerard Elmore), left, courts Chelsea (Mimi Sadoshima), as Chelsea's parents, Sandy (Laura Bach Buzzell) and John (Harrison K. Kawate) work on their crumbling marriage.

Hot-button issues collide
in fracturing family

Kumu Kahua examines the ever-popular topics of racism, the generation gap and the great divide between the genders in interesting, albeit uneven, style with "Ventriloquist."


Presented by Kumu Kahua at the Kumu Kahua Theatre, 46 Merchant St. 8 p.m. Thursdays to Saturdays, and 2 p.m. Sundays, through June 12. Tickets are $5 to $16. Call 536-4441.

Playwright Mark D. Tjarks explores these issues through the crumbling marriage of John, a Hawaii-born Japanese-American, and Sandy, a Caucasian-American who grew up on the mainland. Sandy is convinced that her mother-in-law wanted John to marry a "good Japanese girl" and is doing everything in her power to turn Chelsea, the couple's troubled teenage daughter, against her.

John thinks Sandy is off base, but grudgingly attends marriage counseling sessions -- although he would much rather be hanging out with his friends from high school. The group includes Noreen, a "good Japanese girl" whom Sandy thinks John's mother would have welcomed as a daughter-in-law.

The couple has such trouble communicating that the counselor gives them cassette-recorders and tells them to record what the other is saying and then repeat it.

Meanwhile, their daughter Chelsea (Mimi Sadoshima) is getting to know Ty (Gerard Elmore), the scion of a wealthy Caucasian family. Ty is known around school as a "wigger," someone who affects music-video African-American style. Ty tells Chelsea he's doing it "as a joke," but she tells her parents' marriage counselor there are times Ty seems to be taking it seriously.

The counselor, Roz, also is multicultural. Her father was African-American, her mother Italian-American, and -- surprise! -- her Italian grandmother had problems accepting a half-black grandchild. Roz speaks with a stereotypical "black" accent, but listens to Garth Brooks. "He writes slammin' lyrics," she tells Chelsea during one of the teen's counseling sessions.

"Ventriloquist" works best in capturing the frustration of trying to communicate with someone you can't communicate with. Harrison K. Kawate (John) seethes throughout. Laura Bach Buzzell (Sandy) is a study in nervous energy as the active partner trying to save the marriage, maintain a relationship with her daughter and address the threat posed by her mother-in-law.

The playwright captures the tentativeness of young love, and Sadoshima and Elmore are appealing as the teen couple. She's sweet; he combines a strong physical presence with vulnerability.

Jodie A. Yamada does double duty as John's mother and Roz's Italian grandmother. Her best work is opposite Buzzell when Sandy tells her mother-in-law that she'll take Chelsea to the mainland if the older woman doesn't stop meddling. Grandma's sweet Japanese lady persona drops in a heartbeat and she snarls that she has friends in the courts who could make Sandy's life a living hell. Seconds later, Grandma is sweetly saying the threats were a joke, but Yamada's chilling performance confirms Sandy's fears.

Still, "Ventriloquist" comes up lacking in a few areas.

The plot twists, for example, are predictable. But more importantly, "Ventriloquist" needs to give the audience more reason to care about the characters. Sandy seems a hapless victim, John passive-aggressive, and Roz is suffering from career burn out -- but there's little reason to make an emotional investment in their success or failure in addressing the things that bedevil them.

E-mail to Features Desk


© Honolulu Star-Bulletin -- http://archives.starbulletin.com