THE ACTORS GROUP
Amber Hazelwood, right, stars as a girl who befriends a homeless woman, played by Laurie Tanoura, in the Actors Group's "Merry Christmas, Roberta."
Positive spin offsets reality in play about the homeless
It's a given that when someone writes a drama, musical, screenplay, short story or song about society's perception of the homeless, the homeless protagonist will turn out to be a worthy soul, down on his or her luck and maybe a bit scary to look at, but otherwise pretty much just like you and me. The story never ends with the discovery that the person is homeless by choice and making a good living standing at an intersection with a sign reading "Please Help." Or that the person's problems are a direct result of drugs or alcohol. Or that the person is dangerous because space aliens have warned him that his "meds" are actually poison.
"Merry Christmas, Roberta," at Yellow Brick Studio, 7:30 p.m. Thursdays through Saturdays, and 4 p.m. Sundays, through Jan. 6; Tickets are $15; call 550-8457 or visit www.honoluluboxoffice.com.|
A story with one of those dark twists would be too much of a downer -- and a disservice to all the homeless people who are in fact hard-working, down on their luck and pretty much just like everybody else. Hawaii playwrights Eric Nemoto and Jon Brekke split the difference and go for a comfortable positive spin with their take on the subject, "Merry Christmas, Roberta," at Yellow Brick Studio.
Noreen and Alvin Amino are already worried about the long-term prospects of their inner-city convenience store when they discover that someone is stealing food from their shelves and cash from the till -- $340 in four months. The obvious suspect, the stock boy who works for them, denies everything but they fire him anyway.
Then they learn that the thief is their 9-year-old daughter, Lynette, who is giving the food and their hard-earned money to a homeless woman in a nearby alley. Lynette has been giving her school lunch money to the woman as well.
Alvin goes ballistic -- until he discovers that the "bum" is a woman. That's something the audience already knows.
Brekke and Nemoto add a touch of reality by mentioning in passing that there are people who might do bad things to a 9-year-old girl met in an alley. However, they make it clear in the context of the story that Alvin's response -- to the theft, as well as to Lynette's friendship with Roberta -- is wrong, and that Lynette's desire to have Roberta join them for Thanksgiving is right.
We learn that Roberta is from Colorado, and that her daughter was a victim of a high school shooting. Her husband responded by killing himself. She responded to the double tragedy by coming to Hawaii and becoming a street person.
Nemoto (Alvin) has distinguished himself over the years playing men under pressure, and his work here reaffirms his range and talent. Alvin's reaction to his daughter's actions feel natural and understandable.
Nemoto shares credit with Ona Marie (Noreen) for the warmth and realism of scenes that show a husband and wife struggling to keep their marriage together through the stress of running an at-risk business. Should they have sold instead of refinancing? Where can they afford to live if not in the apartment behind the store? How can they afford to give money to Roberta when they barely have enough to pay their bills?
Amber Hazelwood (Lynette) makes a winning debut as the good-hearted daughter. If only the world were that simple -- and that safe for little girls!
Laurie Tanoura (Roberta) gives a convincing portrayal of an emotionally battered woman who blossoms and regains her spunk after the Aminos invite her to join them for Thanksgiving. Stephanie Kuroda adds a touch of reality as a homeless substance abuser who sometimes bullies Roberta and always seems on the verge of violence.