Star-Bulletin Features

Thursday, April 29, 1999

By George F. Lee, Star-Bulletin
Allan Okubo and Val Falle play Mr. and Mrs.
Oyama, while Keith Kashiwada plays their son, Kiyo.

Body & Soul

Kumu Kahua brings
Milton Murayama's classic
novel to the local stage

By Burl Burlingame


There are few acts more intimate than the one we're performing right now, writer-to-reader. But if it's edited, or if it's read by someone else, or translated into a foreign language, scrims of interpretation are pulled up between us.

So imagine what it's like for authors to have their works adapted for other media. Milton Murayama's classic novel "All I Asking For Is My Body" has its Hawaii stage premiere tonight at Kumu Kahua Theatre. Even though Murayama did the stageplay himself, it's still being filtered through director Harry Wong and eight actors before reaching the audience.

"It's unavoidable -- the author's words take on a life of their own," said Wong. "And, ideally, with a good writer, that's EXACTLY what happens. That means the story and characters stand on their own. As for my part ... I may be directing it, but it's up to the actors eventually. It's their butts out there."

There are eight people in the cast, which is a bit smaller than usual, said Wong.

By George F. Lee, Star-Bulletin
Below, Michie, played by Emily Kojima, turns away
from Kiyo in Kumu Kahua's production, "All I
Asking For Is My Body."

The book was adapted for the stage once before, in 1989, for the Asian-American Theater in San Francisco. According to Wong, Murayama -- who arrived here yesterday -- has revamped the story, drawing in material from his other books "Five Years On a Rock" and "Plantation Boy," which continued the story of the debt-ridden Oyama family and their life on a Maui sugar plantation in the late '30s.

"Like everyone else in the world, Japanese families in Hawaii were affected by the Depression, and many had to drop out of the middle class and return to the plantation," said Wong. The play is set in the years 1936 to 1942, another time of stress for Japanese-Americans.

Murayama, himself a plantation boy, graduated from Lahainaluna High School and served in the Military Intelligence Service in World War II. "It's a memory play -- the storyteller is looking back -- and the passage of time is suggested to the audience," said Wong. "It's clear in the novel. It's very difficult to adapt from a novel that has such richness in its narrative.

"It's a different medium. For example, you can't digress and show the Filipino struggle for equal rights. You can't raise those ever-present clouds of red dust on stage without making the audience cough."

The specifics of plantation life are used to create a story we all can relate to. "In order to be universal, you have to be local first," said Wong.

All I Asking For Is My Body

Bullet On stage: 8 p.m. Thursday through Saturday, and 2 p.m. Sundays through May 30
Bullet Venue: Kumu Kahua Theatre, 55 Merchant St.
Bullet Tickets: $15 Friday-Sunday; $12 Thursdays (discounts for seniors, students and groups)
Bullet Call: 536-4222

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