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'Aroha's' nuances elusive


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POSTED: Friday, May 08, 2009

Kumu Kahua Theatre's 2006 production of “;The Songmaker's Chair”; gave island theater audiences a thought-provoking look at modern New Zealand as seen from a Samoan perspective. Almost exactly three years later, Tim Bostock's production of “;He Reo Aroha”; (”;Words of Love”;) offers Hawaii a glimpse of life within the Maori host culture.

               

     

 

'HE REO AROHA'

        » Where: The ARTS @ Marks Garage, 1159 Nuuanu Ave.
       

» When: 10 p.m. Friday, 2 and 8 p.m. Saturday and 4 p.m. Sunday

       

» Cost: $25 general; $20 for students, seniors and military (pre-sale discounts available)

       

» Info: 528-0506 or hsblinks.com/9l

       

 

       

While Samoan playwright Albert Wendt's “;Chair”; was the story of three generations, Jamie McCaskill and Miria George focus on the experiences of two people over a much shorter period of time. Both productions require fluency in a second language—Samoan for “;Chair,”; Maori for “;Aroha”;—to fully appreciate the nuances of the playwrights' work.

George and McCaskill start their story in the middle. Kaia (Kali Kopae) is performing in Europe, and after a couple of songs confesses to the audience that “;I feel like I missed out on the one thing that was good about my life.”;

From this point on, the action ricochets through a sometimes confusing series of character changes as Kopae and her co-star, playwright/actor McCaskill, act out the story of Kaia and her ex-boyfriend, Pascoe. They also play the characters of Kaia's cousin, Pascoe's best friend and a fifth character who seems at first to be Kaia's manager, but who might actually be a supernatural spiritual adviser.

There are probably cultural issues in play through all this that would be obvious to a Maori audience, but what came through the bilingual songs and dialogue for this American is that Kaia left New Zealand for Europe without telling Pascoe that she was leaving, and then didn't call or write him in the 2 1/2 years she was away. That would be insensitive in almost any culture.

By the time Kaia returns home—giving up her career as an entertainer to work for her cousin cleaning fish in a packing plant—Pascoe has apparently moved on emotionally and fallen in love with someone else. Life is rarely that simple in works of fiction, and isn't that simple for Kaia and Pascoe here.

The musical numbers—and there are lots of them—would be perfect for a souvenir album that could be sold complete with English translations of the Maori songs. As it is, they slow the action for people who don't speak Maori.

McCaskill portrays Pascoe as a decent and honest man, hurt by Kaia's departure but apparently happy with the economic uncertainties and occasional risks of being a fisherman. McCaskill is also engaging in the role of Kaia's cousin—whatever gender the cousin is intended to be.

Kopae makes a convincing switch of character and gender in the scenes where she plays Pascoe's fishing partner. Watching Kopea's hands move in a scene in the packing plant, it is easy to “;see”; the fish Kaia is cleaning.

What isn't clear—for an American who doesn't speak fluent Maori—is what else might be going between Kaia and Pascoe as we gradually learn about the circumstances of their estrangement and watch their efforts at reconciliation.