Keith Kashiwada adapted "The Watcher of Waipuna" from a work by Gary Pak. By Kathryn Bender, Star-Bulletin

'Watcher' adaptation is as good
as the original

By Burl Burlingame

IT'S almost a cliche: An author's work is adapted for the stage or screen, and the author is heartbroken over what happens to the original.

Not so with Kumu Kahua's adaptation of Gary Pak's "The Watcher of Waipuna."

"I think it's great!" Pak bubbles. "I'm their biggest fan! I've been to see it four times in the last week! It's a blast!"

Well! Pak largely credits adapter and director Keith Kashiwada with the work's successful leap from ink to stage.

As for Kashiwada, he largely credits a certain sense of desperation.

"I've been with Kumu Kahua for several years, and you know, we exist to present the work of local playwrights. Well, there aren't a lot of local playwrights in town. But there are local storytellers. We wanted to get people from outside involved, and we enlisted the help of (publisher) Bamboo Ridge. Gary's story seemed most conducive to staging."

Pak's tale, the title piece in a Bamboo Ridge anthology, concerns Gilbert Sanchez, an innocent fellow dogged by greedy relatives and developers wanting a piece of his property. "He's a little Forrest Gump-ish, with elements of 'Being There,' " Kashiwada said. Sanchez' inner conflicts are expressed by actors playing various segments of his personality, plus a chorus of gossipy housewives.

Kashiwada developed the piece with the help of actor-directors John H.Y. Wat and Harry Wong III. Kashiwada's day job is at Kapiolani Community College, teaching speech and a "performing literature" class.

"I hesitated at first when they called," Pak said. "There's a certain narrative technique and a certain ambiguity with the supernatural that I thought would be difficult to translate."

"The idea of a Greek chorus is as old as drama itself, but that doesn't mean you see it much these days," said Kashiwada, giving an example of adapting classic dramaturgy to Pak's piece. "In class, we deal with literature not written for the stage. We take works meant only to be read and figure out how to give them a dramatic voice."

Is this what the author intended?

"We don't want to get too locked into single forms of story-telling. If we get the literature out there, it'll have a wider audience. The trick is to be true to the author's ideas, his integrity of intention, not his style."

Pak agrees. "The reader creates the world for himself as he reads - it's a different dimension," he said. "The language is such an important theme, and they did a great job of preserving the language ... The language itself is the life of the piece."

Beyond that, it's just "a neat feeling seeing the cast bring the characters to life," Pak said.

"Gary was so gung-ho, he'd even come to rehearsals and hang out," Kashiwada said. "He must like how we've done it, because he told us he was completely gassed with the production. I'm sure if we had distorted the work, Gary would have told us. Without hesitating."

The facts

What: "The Watcher of Waipuna"
When: 8 p.m. Thursday-Saturday, 2 p.m. Sunday
Where: Kumu Kahua Theatre
Cost: $12; $9 for seniors, students
Call: 536-4441

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