COURTESY BRAD GODA / KUMU KAHUA
Ai-yah! "Pidgin Wawrz," an audience favorite, features, clockwise from front, the comedy of Daniel Lopaka Kalahele, Jeremy Wagner, D. Tafa'i Silipa and Jaeves K.H. Iha.
(Too) loud and proud
"Redneck" comedian Jeff Foxworthy used to say that when people from other parts of the county hear someone speak with a Southern accent, they automatically "deduct 20 points from your IQ."
On stage: 8 p.m. Thursdays through Saturdays, and 2 p.m. Sundays, through Feb. 11
Place: Kumu Kahua Theatre, 46 Merchant St.
Tickets: $13 Thursdays; $16 other days. Discounts for seniors, students, unemployed (Thursday only) and groups of 10 or more
The same is true -- like it or not -- when people from other parts of the country encounter people from Hawaii who communicate only in pidgin (aka "Hawaiian Creole English" to edjumacated high muckamucks who li' use fi' dollah wordz).
Some pidgin-speakers deal with this by learning to speak standard American English, then using whichever dialect is most appropriate. Others, however, carry a large chip on their shoulders and demand that the rest of the world change to accommodate them.
The latter attitude is a recurring theme in Kumu Kahua's "Living Pidgin."
The playwright, self-styled "pidgin guerilla" Lee Tonouchi, assembled the script from an assortment of previously published essays, short stories and performance pieces. Some bits are basic attacks on those impossibly intolerant and benighted people who have the nerve to suggest that Hawaii residents can benefit by being able to speak standard English in addition to pidgin. Others are comic vignettes that reiterate the basic "Pidgin Good, Standard English Bad" message.
Several sketches are more general in theme. But almost all take longer than necessary to get where they're going.
Several also -- perhaps unintentionally -- reinforce the stereotypical image of pidgin-speakers in Hawaii as arrogant, loud and crude.
An early piece, "How Fo' Be Local in Five Easy Steps," features an obnoxious lout who exhibits none of the positive qualities most of us would consider as being "local."
Another excessively long segment follows the comic experiences of three rebels living in a future Hawaii where pidgin has been outlawed -- as if that's ever gonna happen! There are plenty of funny bits along the way, but even the funniest sketch can go on too long.
In fairness, Tonouchi isn't the first to rely heavily on local references as punch lines. He also draws on the works of James Grant Benton, Paul Ogata and Rap Reiplinger; a parody of Reiplinger's parody of "Tell Laura I Love Her" becomes a bit-within-a-bit in a long comic sketch.
Fortunately, the ensemble cast -- Pukaua Ah-Nee, Jaeves K.H. Iha, Daniel Lopaka Kalahele, Julia Nakamoto, Kristen Nonaka, D. Tafa'i Silipa, Darryl Tsutsui and Jeremy Wagner -- is consistently better than the material, and with Kumu Kahua artistic director Harry Wong III directing, several segments offer memorable insights into local life -- pidgin-speaking or otherwise.
Tonouchi steps down from his soap box with "7 Deadly Local Sins," a series of relatively short vignettes starring Tsutsui as a happily unemployed street person who spends his time contemplating the meaning of life. "Significant Moments in da Life of Oriental Faddah and Son" stars Kalahele as a Hawaii-born Japanese American who can't understand why his "katonk" girlfriend finds it offensive to be called "Oriental." In terms of depth and cross-cultural insight, it is the best piece in the play.
"Pidgin Wawrz" was an audience favorite on opening night, thanks to the comic talents of Kalahele, Silipa and Wagner. Silipa and Wagner also had some good moments in "Hawaiian Hero for Hire," in which two slackers -- one Hawaiian, one Caucasian -- weigh the pros and cons of becoming superheroes. Silipa was also a big hit with the audience any time he performed in a dress.
The final sketch is intended to offer a message of empowerment to Hawaii residents who chose to stick with pidgin, but it also underscores the importance of punctuation to communicate quickly and precisely -- writing in pidgin or standard American English.