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Star-Bulletin Features

Monday, March 13, 2000

By Dennis Oda, Star-Bulletin
Eric Dixon Burns, as Kalani Calder, greets Nani Morita,
played by Sharon Kanoe, at one of their meetings.

‘Spur’ examines
source of ‘local’

Bullet Spur: Presented by Kumu Kahua Theatre, through April 9, 8 p.m. Thursdays-Saturdays (except March 17) and 2 p.m. Sundays, 46 Merchant St., tickets $5-$12 Thursdays, $10-$15 Fridays through Sundays
Bullet Info: 536-4222. To charge by phone, call 536-4441

By John Berger
Special to the Star-Bulletin


A University of Hawaii English professor is stripped of his tenure and dismissed in disgrace for expressing the opinion that no "local" would ever or could ever write great literature. He then spends 10 years preparing the perfect revenge on the "local" literary establishment.

Buy into the premise (like, how many tenured professors have ever been dismissed for any reason at the UH-Manoa?) and "Spur," the latest play by UH professor Dennis Carroll, becomes a memorable though sometimes problematic experience at Kumu Kahua.

The issues are interesting. The characters are somewhat less satisfying, although none are used to make one "viewpoint." That in itself puts "Spur" well above some of the other issue-oriented works by island playwrights.

The disgraced professor, Bruce Calder (Allen Cole), and his wife (Constance Hassell), are living in a luxurious self-imposed exile on Lanai when he is contacted by Dr. Nelsin Artui (Misa Tupou), a one-time protege who has become a prominent figure on the "local" literature scene.

It seems a fabulous trilogy of novels has been written by an unknown reclusive Japanese-American woman on the mainland. Artui has come to ask his old mentor's aid in launching her "Hanapepe Trilogy" as a mainstream novel and big-budget film.

It turns out to be a busy night at the Calder residence as the couple is also visited by their estranged son (Eric Dixon Burns) and his latest gay lover, Peter Fujitani (Jason Kanda).

Another visitor is Sharon Kanoe (Nani Morita), one of Dr. Calder's former students. It seems she is also helping Artui launch the book. Given the general unease that greets her arrival at the Calder home, it seems that she may have had a personal relationship with the professor before his dismissal.

Very little in "Spur" is as it initially seems to be.

Carroll provides new surprises in each act of this two-hour, three-act play. Those in the first two acts are more plausible than the bombshells he releases in Act III. To say much more about Carroll's development of the characters and conflicts would defuse the impact he obviously intends to be part of the viewer's experience.

Carroll treads with care when addressing the much-publicized issues of what makes someone "local," and whether someone born and raised in Hawaii but not of "local" ethnicity can write "local literature."

Calder is from a "kama'aina haole" family that has lived in Hawaii for three generations. Artui is a first-generation immigrant from the South Pacific. Kanoe was born and raised on the Big Island. Calder's wife is from the mainland. Fujitani is a "kotonk" (mainland Japanese-American) from California. Which of them is "local" and why?

Carroll/Calder lets fly some acid-etched salvos at "self-indulgent" coming-of-age-in-Hawaii stories that are essentially thinly disguised autobiographies, but avoids probing the issue more deeply.

The outcome to the primary conflict does not seem believable based on the information provided in the opening night performance.

A bigger problem is staging. The audience views the action from the ewa and mauka sides of the theater, and most of the action is directed toward the ewa end. Sight lines get worse toward the Diamond Head end of the room. Those in the worst seats see mostly rear ends of the actors. Some directors would have adjusted the blocking accordingly. David C. Farmer did not.

Joseph D. Dodd (set design), D. Scott Woods (lighting), Keith K. Kashiwada (sound design) and BullDog (prop design), share credit for the striking set and audio-visual cues that set the mood and establish the milieu.

"Spur" is longer than necessary but Carroll offers a fine springboard for considering the concept of "localness."

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