Advertisement - Click to support our sponsors.

Star-Bulletin Features

Thursday, March 9, 2000

By Dennis Oda, Star-Bulletin
Nani Morita, played by Sharon Kanoe, is confronted by
Allen Cole, acted by Bruce Calder, in "Spur."

Play argues
local writers’ place
in literature

Kumu Kahua premieres
'Spur' today

By Cynthia Oi


DENNIS Carroll apologizes for "being a bit coy," but he doesn't want to talk in detail about the plot of his newest play. He doesn't even want to say why he titled it "Spur."

OK, then.

According to Kumu Kahua Theatre, which premieres the play today, " 'Spur' tells the story of Bruce Calder, a third-generation kama'aina professor of literature who has been drummed out of the University of Hawai'i after going public with a statement that no 'local' would or could ever write great literature."

And then?


Bullet What: "Spur" by Dennis Carroll, presented by Kumu Kahua
Bullet When: 8 p.m. Thursdays through Saturdays, and 2 p.m. Sundays through April 9 (except March 17)
Bullet Where: Kumu Kahua Theatre, 46 Merchant St.
Bullet Cost: $12 to $5, Thursdays; $15 to $10 Fridays to Sundays; by credit card at 536-4441 or at the box office
Bullet Call: 536-4222

The professor takes haven on Lanai, the synopsis continues, but his peace is disturbed by visitors, one of whom is an ex-colleague who asks for his help closing a book deal on a trilogy by -- tah-dah! -- a local author.

Certainly a premise to spur discourse, no?

Carroll demurs again, but he really isn't being difficult. He just wants the audience to be surprised as his story unfolds.

First stagings of his plays are hard on him. "I'm a bit nervous," he says.

"There's a feeling of helplessness because all you can do is watch what the director and cast are doing." Especially with this piece, which he "feels really good" about.

"I call it a 'play noir.' It's like film noir. It depends on secrets, on appearances contradicting reality, and things like betrayal and violence," he says, sipping coffee outside Paradise Palms, a cafe on the University of Hawai'i campus that's a short stroll from Kennedy Theatre.

Carroll has been on the theater faculty for more than 30 years. Born in Australia, he came to the islands in 1962 as an East-West Center grantee, earning a master's degree in theater direction. In 1969, after receiving his doctorate at Northwestern University, he returned to UH and has been teaching there since.

But even after living in the islands for most of his adult life, raising a family and building a career here, he knows he's not local.

"Oh, yes, oh, yes, I'm still an outsider," he says. "I don't think you can ever really hope to understand the culture unless you were born into it."

By Dennis Oda, Star-Bulletin
Eric Dixon Burns and Jason Kanda in a scene from "Spur."

Being local isn't easy to define, Carroll says. "It's everything from the language to personal reactions to people, beliefs and temperament. It's very complicated and takes years and years of paying attention. Understanding a culture other than your own is a lifetime commitment."

Hawaii "is a fascinating society and although you are always an outsider -- not having been born here -- you kind of find a way to appreciate the differences and the problems and the peculiarities of the community, which is worth examining in theater," he says.

"That's why I got involved with Kumu Kahua and with helping to develop the idea of local drama."

The main character in the play -- "actually an anti-hero," Carroll says -- is a wealthy, third-generation, sugar family kama'aina "who is educated and in a position of responsibility, who makes a mistake and essentially is ostracized."

"It examines the position of kama'aina haoles in Hawaii and their dilemma and feelings of being isolated, of not being part of local culture or not being accepted as part of local culture."

Carroll believes it is not inconceivable that someone like Calder would make such statements about local literature.

"Some people at the university still make the old-fashioned argument that anything that reflects local -- say the use of pidgin, local experience or anything they call 'folk ways' -- can't be considered part of the canon of accepted, high-quality literary work," he says.

"Spur" also asks whether a kama'aina haole can legitimately write local literature.

"Can you participate in a movement in local literature because essentially it is non-haole based?" he asks.

Does this question go to the depths of the play's plot?

Peering through large black-framed glasses, he says mysteriously, "Things are not as they seem."

Do It Electric
Click for online
calendars and events.

E-mail to Features Editor

Text Site Directory:
[News] [Business] [Features] [Sports] [Editorial] [Do It Electric!]
[Classified Ads] [Search] [Subscribe] [Info] [Letter to Editor]
[Stylebook] [Feedback]

© 2000 Honolulu Star-Bulletin