Aala revisited

A new play recalls
the ambience of the old park

By Burl Burlingame
Star-Bulletin

LARRY Fukumoto looked out over the rolling expanse of Aala Park: grass, shade trees, homeless people and the occasional scavenger. It's quiet. "Used to be lots of buildings here, lots of families -- lots of action," he said. "That was Aala Park in the old days."

Fukumoto, one of the actors in Kumu Kahua's new mounting of Edward Sakamoto's "A'ala Park," grew up in the area. So did Sakamoto. Director James Nakamoto was also familiar with the park, which, during the play's time setting of Statehood Day, 1959, was a complex low-income neighborhood of wood-frame buildings and narrow, dusty alleys.

"It was a fun place," recalled Fukumoto, who along with Nakamoto and set designer Alan Hunley looked over the park as it is today and compare it to earlier times.

"Yeah, a lot of fun, and it was relatively safe then. You knew everybody. See the ironwood trees over there?" said Nakamoto. "It think that's all that's left. Those are original. And there used to be a bandstand over here. They held political rallies there."

"Oh! A big thing in Hawaii," said Fukumoto. "Everyone would come, and the kids would be running around everywhere. And over there was where the Filipino men would play sipa-sipa, kicking around a bamboo ball."


By Dennis Oda, Star-Bulletin
'A'ala Park' pals clown around on the set at Kumu Kahua
Theatre. They are, from top, Alan Hunley, Jim Nakamoto,
Ed Sakamoto and Larry Fukumoto.



The canal looked pretty much the same, they said. "We'd throw rocks at crabs, that was our hobby," said Fukumoto. "And stuck-hook at the fish."

"Stuck-hook?" said Nakamoto.

"Yeah, a big ball of fishhooks -- you see the school of fish, and throw stuck-hook at 'em."

"Stuck-hook, stuck-hook," said Nakamoto. "I like that!"

River Street, framing the canal, was famous for its whore houses, particularly during World War II, when lines of lonely soldiers and sailors went around the block. "We called the GIs 'Joe,' and all the sailors were 'Mac.' We shined their shoes," said Fukumoto.

"There used to be quite a bit of Japanese stores, and when the Japanese theaters would show a big movie, they'd fly huge banners, like Boy's Day," said Nakamoto. "Plenty of tailors. I got my graduation pants from Haseyama Tailors, and they were so well made I used them in college as ski pants. Ed Sakamoto's mother and father owned a store here -- I don't remember what they sold."

Sakamoto's memories of those times ring powerfully in "A'ala Park," which takes place in a narrow alley behind a pool hall. The hero, Manny, who is played at different ages by two actors, wishes to leave "the rock" with his girlfriend and seek broader horizons on the mainland, although he has bonding ties with his old neighborhood.

"Just like Ed eventually did himself," said Nakamoto. "That's the bigger theme -- trying to get away from what defines you, to get to the mainland and make something of yourself."

"For me, that escape was the Army," said Fukumoto. "My wife looks at me cross-eyed when I say this, but the happiest day of my life was the day I passed my physical."

Set designer Hunley researched existing alleys in Chinatown to get a feeling for the detail and color. "It's narrow, bricks and pipes and piles of things to define the space," said Hunley. He used brick-impressed plywood and built a 40-foot wall across the stage.

"It's tough striking that balance between realism and suggestion. Hopefully, when the characters take the stage, the details fade away and the hard realities of their lives are left."

The wall is "really large, and it's a new configuration for Kumu Kahua," said Hunley. "But we needed a massive wall to give the feeling of oppression, and confinement -- the feeling of not having choices. The other side of the alley is the 'fourth wall' that faces the audience."

"Depending on where you sit, it can be like watching a tennis game," said Nakamoto. "Your head will going back and forth!"

Facts

What: "A'ala Park"
When: 8 p.m. Thursdays through Saturdays and 2 p.m. Sundays, through June 1
Where: Kumu Kahua Theatre
Cost: $15; $12 seniors; $10 students
Call: 536-4441




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