Star-Bulletin Features

Thursday, March 4, 1999

Honolulu Theatre for Youth
Players in "Blue Dolphins," from left: Bruce Hale, Sheilah
Sealey, Walter Eccles and Cynthia See. Sealey plays
the central character, Karana.

HTY’s latest is
serious business

Island of the Blue Dolphins, Presented by Honolulu Theatre for Youth, 4:30 and 7:30 p.m. Saturday and March 13, Leeward Community College Theatre. Tickets: $5-$10. Call 839-9885.

By John Berger
Special to the Star-Bulletin


HEART-RENDING bereavement and broad comic relief play out in uneven portions as Honolulu Theatre for Youth presents Burgess Clark's "Island of the Blue Dolphins" at Leeward Community College. Many HTY shows contain an obvious social lesson. That isn't the case here.

The play is an adaptation of an award-winning book about a 19th- century Native American woman who spent much of her life marooned on an island off the coast of California.

Do It Electric Plucky young Karana (Sheilah Sealey) sees much of her tribe wiped out in a battle with Russian and Aleut fur hunters. She holds her father as he dies slowly and painfully after the battle. Her beloved younger brother is killed by wild dogs. She tames one of the animals -- and the dog dies too.

Karana's story begins and ends with commentary by a sympathetic Spanish priest who describes the discovery of a woman who speaks no known language and will not reveal her name.

Fortunately, there are lighter moments. Cynthia See brings a welcome dose of levity to the grim proceedings as a comical Aleut woman who discovers Karana when another group of Russians visits the island. The jolly woman befriends Karana and keeps her presence on the island a secret. The Aleut is played for laughs -- and laughs are certainly welcome by the time she arrives. See speaks in a non-English language; that theatrical device allows the audience to empathize with Karana as she attempts to communicate with the outsider.

Similar broad comic interplay between Karana and two stereotypical cockney sailors helps brighten the mood later.

Both comic segments got the audience of elementary school kids laughing heartily during a school performance last week. Schoolchildren will benefit from the HTY lesson guide and follow-up classroom activities that make the performance a learning experience. The general public doesn't have that benefit and will likely find "Blue Dolphins" too depressing for younger children.

Those ready for such fare will find that director Lynn Kajiwara Ackerman has a well-crafted production. Joseph D. Dodd creates a striking environment based on two large, multilevel constructions that suggest the craggy uplands of the island. Flat space between them represents the beach. Large "spirit catcher" hangings suggest a link to the tribal ancestors watching from the heavens.

Casey Cameron Dinmore (costumes), Peter Rockford Espiritu (choreography), Ellen Leo (props), Ron Perry (sound/music designer), Richard Shaefer (lighting) and Carl Ackerman (dialectician) also enrich the theatrical experience. The eyes of Karana's ancestors twinkle in the sky, her prized feather skirt becomes a treasure, other accouterments become focal points in the action.

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