Statehood seen as a tragedy


POSTED: Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Statehood for Hawaii was:

a) A tragedy.
b) A disaster.
c) An illegal act.
d) All of the above.

Those answers represent the range of perspectives found in “;The Statehood Project,”; the Kumu Kahua/Fat Ulu Productions collaboration that opens the 2009-2010 season at Kumu Kahua. It consists of short works by 16 playwrights, authors and poets, and a 1974 vintage poem by the late Wayne Westlake.

The Westlake poem, written in response to the 15th anniversary of statehood, is performed several times in the show. The final lines sum up the show's general take on statehood: “;It's raining/I feel like crying.”;

Amid the rain and tears are occasional contrary suggestions that statehood may not have been a completely unmitigated human rights disaster.

Statehood gave Hawaii voting representation in Congress and made it possible for island residents to elect the governor of their choosing instead of having one appointed for them by Washington.

The general message, however, is that statehood was not a good thing for the people of Hawaii.






» Where: Kumu Kahua Theatre, 46 Merchant St.


» When: 8 p.m. Thursdays through Saturdays, and 2 p.m. Sundays, through Sept. 20


» Cost: $16 general admission (discounts available)


» Info: 536-4441 or http://www.kumukahua.org


The pieces approach the subject in diverse ways. Joshua Weldon and Maile P. Rondero star in “;The Dance”; as Max, an unsophisticated but basically decent Caucasian sailor from Iowa who goes on a blind date with Mary, the sister of his shipmate's girlfriend. Max describes himself as “;Hawaiian”; because he now lives in Hawaii; Mary, a student at Kamehameha, finds that extremely offensive. Both characters break the fourth wall, acting out their thoughts for the audience; the action goes slapstick as Mary's thoughts become violent. Finally she realizes that Max means well, and they go to the dance.

“;Detention”; is another well-realized piece. Ryan Sutherlan and Stephanie Keiko Kong star as pidgin-speaking high school students who argue about the relevance of the overthrow of Queen Liliuokalani in 1893 to people living in 2009.

Hawaii residents who think of themselves as “;locals”; — not Hawaiian but certainly not “;haole”; — will find their sense of identity challenged by “;Wea I Stay: A Play in Hawai'i.”; A Japanese-American girl (Rondero) awakens after being knocked unconscious and solemnly informs her parents (Tyler Tanabe and Kong) that Japanese-Americans are not “;locals,”; but “;settlers”; here. The story ends with a clever and thought-provoking twist.

Also interesting are “;First Star Off,”; a first-person account of an encounter with a woman who is quietly campaigning for secession, and “;Ballad of the Oldest Goat on Kaho'olawe,”; a rambling fantasy piece in which a goat encourages “;my fellow ungulates”; to support statehood, the growth of tourism and employment opportunities as busboys, waiters and maids on Kahoolawe.

In “;Dear Mr. Kaapuawaokamehameha,”; a Hawaiian man expresses his concerns about the future at a congressional hearing. It is the most powerful piece and most touching performance in the program.

The nadir is plumbed with “;State Throne,”; a torturously long exercise in toilet humor that should have been cut before opening night.