KUMU KAHUA THEATRE
Tour guide Alika Kealoha (James Keawe Bright) with two of his passengers, Mr. and Mrs. Clement (Laurie Tanoura and Neal Milner).
Natives’ conflict has many faces
In the play "Kamau," characters are forced to adapt to modern Hawaii, whether they like it or not
That's the translation of the title to Alani Apio's 1994 play "Kamau," currently in revival at the Kumu Kahua Theatre. Nearly 17 years after its debut, the play still resonates with its depiction of the basic conflicts between Hawaiian and Western cultures, and its core dilemma of trying to live with aloha in your heart while being a cast off in your own land.
On stage: 8 p.m. Thursdays through Saturdays, and 2 p.m. Sundays, through April 15
Place: Kumu Kahua Theatre, 46 Merchant St.
Tickets: $5 to $16
Given the production's financial support from the Hawaii People's Fund, it was no surprise to see people from the local activist community, such as John Witeck, former Lt. Gov. Jean King and Haunani-Kay Trask, in Sunday afternoon's audience. A play like this gives forceful voice to their common cause.
A soundtrack that includes George Helm and the Makaha Sons of Ni'ihau gives the Hawaiian culture its voice in mele. The music provides a counterpoint to the demanding voices that torture the lead character, Alika (James Keawe Bright), although he tries to stave them off with a steady diet of beer.
Considered the smarter, responsible one of the family, Alika makes his living as a tour guide, supporting his two cousins, brothers Michael (the exceptional Aito Simpson Steele) and George (William "Kal-El" Murray). The three live in the plantation home of his grandfather near the beach. Both of Alika's parents are dead.
Things come to a head when Alika learns that his employer has purchased the land under the family home and plans to build a hotel there. His boss (Neal Milner) wants to promote him to tour manager, but does he really want the job?
To Michael, Alika is selling out his family and his cultural heritage. The brothers make their subsistence living fishing and they jokingly tolerate Alika's attempts to join them on their trips offshore. While Michael is the more emotional and confrontational of the two, George is labeled the moke, more happy smoking bud than dealing with his pregnant girlfriend Lisa (Dusty Behner).
With theater artistic director Harry Wong and actor Wil T.K. Kahele sharing directing duties, the cast overall does a solid and commendable job. The actor portraying Alika's mom, Elizabeth Pukaua Nui 'O Kamehameha Sniffen Ah-Nee, however, is a work-in-progress. The mother is crucial to providing Alika with a link to his past, but on Sunday, Ah-Nee forgot her lines at one point, and later jumped her cue. Later, during the more dramatic moments, she let loose her character's fury with too much force, making it more melodramatic than need be.
Ah-Nee should be able to relax and find her voice in the character with future performances.
She could draw inspiration from Steele, whose moments on stage are especially assured and at times positively electric. He fully realizes the pathos of George, a once proud fisherman who finds himself imprisoned for trespassing on the very land he lived on, reduced to being an angry, frustrated, dangerous animal roaming his cell.
Another bump in the road is Apio's use of a couple of naïve tourists from the Baptist South, Henry and Mabel Clements (Milner and Laurie Tanoura). It seems that Apio especially wants to use Mabel as an example of the well-meaning sorts who want to empathize with the Hawaiian people and their culture. The couple do provide some light relief early in the play. But when they're reintroduced after all of the family and cultural tumult is played out, it feels as though all the built-up energy has been let out like a deflated balloon. Nothing against the actors, who play the Clements as well as they were written.
In "Kamau," the characters come close to being archetypes, but Apio gives them enough of an individual voice that the audience can believe in their perpetual struggle for a true identity -- and with no pat resolution in sight.
Alika's anguished cry -- "What I going do?" -- after the death of his cousin George is the plea for all who care for Hawaii and our future.