Kumu Kahua's latest rookie hit is educational
POSTED: Thursday, January 15, 2009
Kumu Kahua's premiere of the original 1998 version of "Da Mayah" introduced rookie playwright Lee Cataluna to local audiences with a production that ranked as one of the year's best shows. Now, 10 years later, Scot Izuka makes an equally promising debut with Kumu Kahua's world premiere of his "Mainland Education." The 2008-09 theater season still has six months to run, but this beautifully staged production—part comedy, part drama—looks like it will be one of this year's best shows.
On stage: 8 p.m. Thursdays through Saturdays, and 2 p.m. Sundays, through Feb. 8
Place: 46 Merchant St.
Tickets: $16 (discounts for students, seniors and the unemployed)
Call: 536-4441 or visit www.KumuKahua.org
Kumu Kahua veteran Tyler Tanabe stars as Jerome, a Hawaii-born Japanese-American who has left Hawaii to get his M.A. in geology at the University of Kansas. His roommate, Yan, is from Taiwan. Yan evidently reads English well enough to be working on a Ph.D. in anthropology, but conversational English is still a challenge for him.
The two meet Tsuchiya Reiko (Rei, for short), who plans to return to Japan after getting a degree in business administration, and Kansas resident Cathy Decker, who is majoring in English "because I'm fascinated by it."
Jerome is swept off his feet by Cathy but finds himself attracted to Rei as well. What WILL he do?
Izuka combines a good ear for entertaining dialogue with a commendable sense of focus. Yan, Cathy and Rei are interesting characters, but the story focuses on Jerome's experiences living outside the comfortable environment he grew up in. He bristles when Cathy innocently refers to Hawaii as "exotic" and points out the stereotypes in play when a Caucasian student asks the three Asians—but not Cathy—for help studying for a calculus exam.
Jerome is conflicted about dating a Caucasian: Will her parents like him, would his parents accept her? But he's stunned to discover that Rei's parents won't accept him under any circumstances because they consider him "American" rather than "Japanese."
Tanabe plays a difficult role with insight and skill. Jerome is not the sarcastic know-it-all often found in plays about locals interacting with haoles. We see that he has little experience with women, that he is proud of where he comes from, and that he also feels a bit insecure about being in a place where Asians are in the minority. Tanabe develops these character traits as the story follows a believable yet unpredictable arc.
Shiro Kawai (Yan) and Julia Nakamoto (Rei) keep their foreign accents firmly in place; Kawai also shows great comic chops playing a man whose insights are deeper than his command of English indicates. Kathy Hunter (Cathy) completes the core quartet with a memorable performance as an assertive but sensitive woman who turns out to be less concerned about race than many people in Hawaii.