ByDennis Oda, Star-Bulletin
Lovey Nariyoshi, center, played by Lyana Atsumi, discovers
the horror of a Toni perm. Also, from left, are Kennly Asato,
Marya Takamori and Michelle Sekine.

Kumu Kahua cooks up
a tasty ‘Wild Burger’

By John Berger
Special to the Star-Bulletin

FEW "adaptations" come close to doing justice to the original work. Kumu Kahua's production of "Wild Meat and the Bully Burgers" is a rare exception. Keith Kashiwada and John H.Y. Wat have done a brilliant job of transforming Lois-Ann Yamanaka's novel into a thoroughly entertaining play. It is the most substantial Kumu Kahua work in years, perhaps ever.

There's no moralizing or smug stereotyping, just solid storytelling, engaging characters, and smooth pacing. What a show!

Kashiwada and Wat could have dumbed down "Wild Meat" into a self-congratulatory celebration of wonderful pidgin. They could have reduced it to a feel-good exercise in local nostalgia that would have mystified anyone who didn't grow up here in the '70s. Instead they've maintained the tone and spirit of Yamanaka's novel, while trimming just enough to create a two-act play stageable in Kumu Kahua's limited performance space.

Among the deletions are numerous accounts of gratuitous cruelty to animals not used as food. Also gone are narrator Lovey Nariyoshi's embarrassing moments as one of the first girls in her class to begin menstruating, and her friendship with a sympathetic teacher.

Splitting the character of Lovey into two roles was a wise decision. Michelle Sekine provides the voice of the adult narrator; Lyanna Atsumi portrays Lovey as protagonist within the story. Sekine is consistently effective as the focal point. Atsumi is charming throughout as Yamanaka's plucky heroine.

One change is that Lovey's father (Darryl Tsutsui) seems less abusive than in the book; her mother (Marya Takamori) remains harsh and unsympathetic. Sister Calhoon (Kennly Asato) is reduced to a cipher.

Other characters spring to life straight out of the book. Trevor Tamashiro (Jerry) is right on as Lovey's effeminate male friend and fellow Barbie aficionado.

Michael Ng is absolutely chilling as Jerry's vicious older brother, Larry, a young punk with no redeeming qualities. Larry is by far the nastiest character. Ng is excellent in the role.

Ron Encarnacion (Mr. Otake), Rodney Kwock (Toru), Raynay McKee (Gina), J. Martin Romualdez (Jenks) and Wendy Taira (Lori) are notable in smaller roles.

Jarod "Kamamo" Bailon is hilarious as a dim-bulb carnival worker. Other cast members also embellish their work with key gestures or facial expressions that add impact to their performances. Wat does his best work ever as director.

He and Kashiwada also hew true to Yamanaka's dialogue. Her tales of childhood experiences aren't written for children. Some scenes involve almost nonstop profanity; characters use not only all the usual 4-letter crudities, but also the one even "gangsta" rappers eschew.

Joseph D. Dodd (set design) has crafted another Po'okela Award-worthy masterpiece. The richly detailed backdrops establish the milieu and are worth studying during intermission. Other components create a Ferris Wheel, bedroom window, school room, church and car.

Kashiwada's soundtrack and Takamori's costumes add to the sense of time and place; the recreation of Lovey's misadventure with a "Toni perm" and resulting "oompah loompah" hair-do is particularly fine.

Clarie M. Antenorcruz, Neal Milner, Laurie Tanaka and Allen Thok complete the cast.

Some times comic, some times brutal, always memorable, Kumu Kahua's adaptation of "Wild Meat and the Bully Burgers" should not be missed.

Stage review

What: "Wild Meat and the Bully Burgers" presented by Kumu Kahua
When: 8 p.m. Thursdays through Saturdays and 2 p.m. Sundays through Feb. 9; no performance Jan. 26; added show 8 p.m. Feb. 5
Where: Kumu Kahua, 46 Merchant St.
Cost: $12 general and $10 for students on Wednesdays and Thursdays; other days $15 general, $12 seniors and $10 students
Call: 536-4441

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