Play relates leprosy story


POSTED: Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Plays about historical figures almost always find the playwright guessing, or simply imagining, what may have been said, thought or done at a particular point in time.

Dennis Carroll avoided that problem in his Po'okela Award-worthy drama, “;Massie/Kahahawai,”; by assembling the script entirely from court documents, newspaper articles and other published documents.




2 historical acts


        “;Kalua'iko'olau”; and “;Waiting for a King,”; presented by Kumu Kahua

» Where: Kumu Kahua Theatre


» When: 8 p.m. Thursdays through Saturdays, and 2 p.m. Sundays through June 7


» Cost: $16 (discounts available)


» Information: 536-4441 or www.kumukahua.org


Kemuel DeMoville, whose one-act historical play “;Kalua'iko'olau”; is in its first weekend at Kumu Kahua, also utilized published documents in telling the story of the man now known to history as “;Ko'olau the Leper.”;

When Kalua'iko'olau was diagnosed with leprosy in 1893, the disease was incurable and fatal, and anyone who tested positive was sent to Kalaupapa to die. Kalua'iko'olau vowed to remain free or die, and fled to Kalalau Valley with his wife, Pi'ilani, and their son, Kaleimanu. The authorities were unable to capture them, and the fugitives remained hidden in the valley until Kaleimanu and, later, Kalua'iko'olau died of the disease.

Pi'ilani emerged from Kalalau Valley and surrendered in 1897. No charges were filed against her, and she subsequently wrote a long, poetic account of her experiences.

“;(I was) struck by the honesty, the poetry and the emotional resonance of her words,”; DeMoville wrote last Thursday, responding by e-mail from New Zealand.

Pi'ilani was interviewed at least once by the press, and DeMoville used the published account as the basis of his work.

“;My play is really just a stylized retelling of her story, but with some modern themes and issues thrown in,”; DeMoville said.

The story begins in the present. Two hikers exploring Kalalau Valley are forced to take shelter by a sudden storm. They see an old woman and invite her to join them.

“;They learn that (the woman) is the spirit of Pi'ilani, who then begins to tell her story”; to them.

DeMoville wrote the script in 2006 during a workshop conducted by Julie Iezzi and Richard Emmert on writing noh plays in English and with Hawaiian themes.

“;The play also uses some of the poetry Pi'ilani wrote in her narrative, alongside the poetic and stylized language of noh. I know Harry Wong, the director, has added even more elements to make it all the more Hawaiian. For example, rather than rely on some of the more traditional movement of noh, he is using hula techniques to shape the guide, the movement within the piece.”;

It would be hard to find anyone these days, except the descendants of the men he killed, who isn't on the side of Kalua'iko'olau and his family in their resistance to being sent to Kalaupapa. One account says that the authorities had announced that they would not allow Pi'ilani and Kaleimanu to voluntarily accompany him to Kalaupapa.

On the other hand, as Hawaii awaits a possible swine flu pandemic, it is easier to understand public fear of a fatal disease spread by close contact with infected people.

DeMoville doesn't claim to have the answers.

“;I think it's easy now to look back on everything that happened and judge the various governing bodies harshly for cruelty or inhumane treatment. But we weren't there. ... On one hand, governments have a responsibility to protect the majority of the population, but on the other hand, those individuals who are infected have rights, too.”;