COURTESY KUMU KAHUA THEATRE
‘Teacher’ of refinement lacks character development
Although no author and playwright can include everything that happens to every character in a multicharacter story, it is essential to include those moments and experiences that make the characters' actions seem natural, based on what we know of their personalities, rather than dictated by plot requirements. Local playwright Anthony Michael Oliver has an interesting story to tell with "Teacher, Teacher," but as presented in its world premiere at Kumu Kahua, his contemporary tale of a teacher and her student is at least two scenes short of complete.
Presented by Kumu Kahua:
» Place: 46 Merchant St.
» Time: 8 p.m. Thursdays to Saturdays and 2 p.m. Sundays through June 17
» Tickets: $16 (discounts available for seniors, students, groups of 10 or more and the unemployed)
» Call: 536-4111
Denise-Aiko Chinen stars as Sharon Kido, a 40-year-old community college teacher who "loses it" on the last day of classes and berates her students for being "drifters, dreamers and slobs," for lacking good manners and for their inability to dress like adults or speak English coherently. Christopher Masato Doi co-stars as the student who takes her comments to heart and asks her to teach him the things she thinks are important to know.
Anyone who doesn't instantly recognize this scenario as the basic premise of "Pygmalion," the George Bernard Shaw play that also provides the characters and plot for "My Fair Lady," will be painlessly brought up to speed in Act 1 as Sharon discusses the situation with her younger sister, Lauren, and fends off Lauren's sexually charged comments about "robbing the cradle."
THIS STORY finishes with a twist reminiscent of the vignette in "The Vagina Monologues" that many people think of as "Bob."
Chinen gives the story its heart, and most of its soul, with her portrayal of a woman who has devoted her life to teaching and who has had little if any sexual experience. Her knowledge of men and the way that a gentleman treats a woman is, therefore, almost entirely hypothetical until she "creates" a gentlemen out of her 21-year-old student.
Chinen succeeds in making the changes in Sharon's character feel right even when the script falls short of completing the story's arc.
Doi overcomes challenges in other areas. The student he portrays, Gavin, and his buddy Sean (M.J. Gonzalvo) are written and played in the early scenes as such inarticulate louts that it's hard to imagine them as having the ambition and intellectual wherewithal to gradate from a local public high school, let alone get into a community college -- and Sharon's assessment of them seems accurate rather than mean-spirited.
Doi succeeds in making Gavin's sudden interest in self-improvement seem genuine. The emotional evolution that occurs as Gavin's horizons broaden seems natural as well. Doi's take on the character ensures that Gavin remains a sympathetic character almost from the moment he steps into his teacher's office.
Gonzalvo provides much of the broad comic relief as the friend whose big ambition in life is to be promoted from dishwasher to busboy. Salli K. Morita completes the cast with a similarly broad comic performance as Sharon's bawdy, pregnant sister.
What this world premiere production lacks is adequate preparation for two pivotal events. We see Sharon do something that indicates that she has decided to redefine her relationship with Gavin, but there's nothing to explain why she would do something that seems so totally out of character.
A fifth (unseen) character from Sharon's past re-enters her life, but nothing is said about how and why this occurred. Did she make it happen or was it a lucky coincidence?
"Teacher, Teacher" would be a more lifelike story if these issues were clarified.