When tragedy strikes


POSTED: Friday, March 13, 2009

It has been more than 10 years since Peter “;Peter Boy”; Kema Jr. was last seen alive by someone who did not subsequently become a suspect in his disappearance and presumed death. The boy's father, Peter Kema Sr., told investigators much later that he had taken Peter Boy to Oahu and left him with a lauhala weaver in Aala Park named Auntie Rose Makuakane, but no one was ever able to find Auntie Rose. Members of the Makuakane ohana said they had never heard of her, and the woman herself has never come forward—let alone provided proof that Peter Boy is alive and well.





        On Stage: 8 p.m. Thursdays to Saturdays, and 2 p.m. Sundays, through April 5

Place: Kumu Kahua Theatre, 46 Merchant St.


Tickets: $16 (discounts available)


Call: 536-4441 or visit www.KumuKahua.org




With all that as backstory, it's natural to assume that Kumu Kahua's world premiere of “;Whatever Happened to John Boy Kihano?”; is playwright Susan Soon He Stanton's dramatization of the Kema case, with names and details changed just enough to avoid legal action by individuals who have never been charged in Peter Boy's disappearance.

The press release for the production heightens that expectation. It says that John Boy's father returns from a fishing trip without his son, that he claims to have left the boy on the Big Island with someone named Auntie Maile, “;a friend of his mother whom he hasn't seen for 20 years”; and has no way of contacting.

Press release notwithstanding, Stanton says her story begins in a very different context and follows a very different trajectory.

She says, for instance, that the Kihano family “;is very loving, so it's a different kind of story.”;

“;There are very, very few parallels between my play and the (Kema case). There are important details that are reflected in it, but it's definitely a work of fiction,”; she said.

“;When I first heard about (the Kema case), I was caught by the headline version: Man gives away a child to a woman he can't prove exists. It caught my imagination, and then when I read more, I realized how different my understanding of the story was ... and so even though I read a lot more about the story, I always kept with my first impulse, which was more about the strange and mysterious side of it.

“;There are a lot of things in it that are more mystical (and) inspired by the mythology in Hawaii ... with how people who are in different worlds relate to each other.”;

Therefore, rather than being a fictionalized account of the Kema case, Stanton's play is about “;a local family, with the mystery driving the story.”;

Stanton adds that separating the story of the fictional Kihano family from what has been documented about the Kema family “;was never really a problem, because my approach to the story was always from a different place. This is absolutely not a story (about) anything criminal.”;

It took almost seven years of intermittent writing, reflection and evolution to compose the finished script. Stanton wrote several other plays along the way and won the Kumu Kahua Theatre/UHM Theatre Department script writing contest for this one in 2006. Now she's seeing the story brought to life by director Kati Kuroda and a cast of Kumu Kahua veterans that includes Troy Apostol, Daryl Bonilla and Christopher Takemoto-Gentile.

“;To me as a playwright it's so exciting (to see). It's the play closest to my heart and the one I feel most attached to,”; said Stanton. “;What I want to have resonate with people in Hawaii ... is that it's about a super-typical crazy, funny, loving, local family sitting around the dinner table, and then something strange and mysterious and confusing happens—and how does this very typical family deal with it?”;