COURTESY KUMU KAHUA
"Ala Wai" is a contemporary local comedy by playwright Bryan Hiroshi Wake and produced by Kumu Kahua.
Cleaning ‘Ala Wai’ requires humor
A keen ear for conversational Japanese, familiarity with arcane "Kikaida" trivia, and a high tolerance for toilet humor are essential when experiencing Kumu Kahua's season-opening production, "Ala Wai."
On stage: 8 p.m. Thursday through Saturday, and 2 p.m. Sunday, through Sept. 23
Place: Kumu Kahua Theatre, 46 Merchant St.
Tickets: $10 to $16
Playwright Bryan Hiroshi Wake's contemporary local comedy centers on his hapless protagonist, Bertram Bigayan. Bert works in a Waikiki hotel and spends his free time at the Ala Wai Canal tending the bench where his father died.
That's what he's doing, along with savoring the fact that he has just been named Employee of the Month at the hotel, when his roommate, Ernesto, arrives with the news that their apartment has just burned down. In two trash bags Ernie holds everything he could salvage -- the only item left of Bert's is a letter from the hotel informing him that he has been fired.
As Bert ponders his fate, Ernie gets into a taunting contest with a grouchy old man named Oscar. Shots are fired. Bert ends up in the Ala Wai and is stung by a mutant Portuguese man-o-war. Bert then discovers that when he urinates into the polluted canal, a patch of clean water is created.
The urine also works wonders as a cleaning agent when Bert misses the canal and hits the sidewalk and a nearby trash can.
Bert, homeless and unemployed, faces a conundrum: Continue to urinate in the canal for free, and slowly but surely restore the manmade ecological disaster area? Or, bottle his urine and sell it as a miracle cleaning fluid to the highest bidder?
Oscar begs Bert to purify the canal. Ernie and a local drug dealer pressure him to go for the big bucks. What will he do?
Ron Encarnacion (Bert), excellent as the creepy rapist in Kumu Kahua's 2005 production of "Age Sex Location," plays a broad comic role here with similar skill. He captures the humanity of the character while also throwing himself into the physical demands of the action.
Daryl Bonilla (Ernie) was an instant audience favorite on opening night with his energetic portrayal of a ignorant loud-mouth with minimal language skills and no ethics whatsoever. Ernie obliviously describes an ironic situation as "erotic." He also exploits Bert shamelessly. The crowd loved him.
Denise-Aiko Chinen (Tori) is adorable as a suicidal Japanese woman left at the altar when the bridegroom saw photos of her in the nude with three men. It turns out that Tori is also into martial arts, and she becomes Bert's ally in a "Kikaida"-style slapstick battle that becomes the climax of Act II.
Chinen's skill as a physical comedienne does much to bridge the language barrier caused by her all-Japanese dialogue. The only glitch is Tori's mention of "Kyu Sakamoto" -- a Japanese person would refer to him as Sakamoto Kyu.
Veteran comic actor Eddy Gudoy makes a welcome return to the local stage as Grover, a bumbling policeman who reinvents himself as Bert's costumed sidekick.
Although the actors do the best they can with the repetitive scatological references, the most impressive work overall is found in set designer Bart McGeehon's perfect replica of a section of the Ala Wai promenade, and the spot-on audio effects of sound designer JEDI that amp up the dramatic impact of every slap, shot, punch and splash.