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Characters speak with conviction


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POSTED: Sunday, November 15, 2009

The experiences of a young Okinawan-American teaching English in Okinawa become the vehicle for an entertaining and even-handed look at the impact of the U.S. military in the region in Kumu Kahua's production of Jon Shirota's “;Voices of Okinawa.”;

Tyler Tanabe gives “;Voices”; a solid foundation in the central role of Okinawan-American Kama Hutchins, a graduate student supporting himself teaching English as a second language while performing research for his degree. Hutchins risks the wrath of his language school supervisor when he asks his students to improve their English by talking about themselves rather than simply reciting textbook phrases.

               

     

 

'VOICES FROM OKINAWA'

        » Where: Kumu Kahua Theatre, 46 Merchant St.
       

» When: 8 p.m. Thursdays through Saturdays and 2 p.m. Sundays through Dec. 6. No show Nov. 26.

       

» Cost: $16; discounts available

       

» Info: 536-4441 or www.kumukahua.org

       

 

       

The students talk about their experiences with American military personnel.

Hawaii stage veteran Dann Seki gets the action off to a great start with his portrayal of a barber who encounters Americans as customers; Seki is a masterful actor and does a great job voicing the customers as well as the barber. Stu Hirayama and Aya Ohara are delightful playing a couple caught on the cusp of the two cultures. She works with American women on one of the bases and wishes her husband would romance her American style; his idea of “;romance”; is his wife bringing him a beer when he wants one.

Daniel Akiyama also stands out as a shy newspaper delivery boy who has become the foster son of a childless American general and his wife; the young man must choose between accepting his foster father's sponsorship at a military academy or keeping his Japanese citizenship.

Julia Nakamoto stars in the starkest and most gripping scene as a student who tearfully reveals she was kidnapped and raped by a soldier. Lighting designer Daniel Sakimura pins Nakamoto in a harsh pillar of light that isolates even as the rest of the cast responds in character to her tale.

The throughline theme blurs here for an true-to-life reason. Because the victim can't identify the man, the American military is not to blame if he goes unpunished; this would be a different story if she identified the man and his superiors refused to turn him over to civilian authorities for trial. As for the act itself, it would be no less heinous if the rapist had been an American service man on leave, a civilian foreigner, a Japanese national or an Okinawan.

“;Voices”; becomes formulaic when Hutchins' disapproving superior accompanies him on a trip to his ancestral village and becomes his love interest.

And what are the odds that a visiting Okinawan-American would discover out of the blue that he has the authority to lease out—and in doing so destroy—the farm that his ancestors' hard work in Hawaii paid for?

However improbable, Hutchins' discovery raises the stakes in the story. On the other hand, scenes in which the characters speak Japanese and/or Okinawan add cultural authenticity but exclude most Americans from the conversation.