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Star-Bulletin Features

Monday, October 16, 2000

Cat Gonzaga plays the farmer and Herman Tesoro Jr. plays
her lazy husband, Bong Wo, who has turned into an ox in
"The Ox Mask," one of the sketches in "Fools and Monkey
Tales: More Mixed Plate" at Honolulu Theatre for Youth.

Folk foolishness
delights keiki


By John Berger
Special to the Star-Bulletin

SUGAR-COATED lessons about responsibility and self-confidence are delivered in entertaining doses as Honolulu Theatre for Youth presents "Fools and Monkey Tales: More Mixed Plate" at Richardson Theatre.

The program consists of four short plays based on folk tales from Laos, Hawaii, Korea and Japan. Each has been rewritten in contemporary American style and simplified in spots for local elementary school kids.

Catherine Gonzaga, Louie Hung, Nara Springer and Herman Tesoro Jr. give engaging performances in multiple roles.


Bullet Fools and Monkey Tales: More Mixed Plate
Bullet Date: Oct. 28, 4:30 and 7:30 p.m.
Bullet Place: Richardson Theatre
Bullet Tickets: $10, $7.50 for students with I.D., $5 for children 3-12 and seniors. Children under 2 are free, but require a ticket
Bullet Call: 839-9885

Playwright Bruce Hale's "The Swan And The Turtle" retells a Laotian parable about a swan and an obnoxious, self-centered turtle. The swan offers to fly the turtle several miles to a new pond -- a short trip for the bird but a long crawl for the reptile. All the turtle has to do is bite down on a stick and keep its mouth shut until they reach their destination. That proves too self-effacing for the turtle -- with fatal results. Hale writes the swan and the turtle as vapid valley-girl types like those found in "Clueless." Tesoro adds deftly underplayed comic relief as a stereotypical French waiter.

"Birdbrain And Featherhead," a Hawaiian tale contributed by Daniel A. Kelin II, finds a young and none-too-bright Hawaiian boy (Tesoro) eventually prevailing over his lazy and exploitative older brother (Hung). Tesoro is hilarious as a well-intentioned dimwit who can't understand why the grasshoppers he catches don't stay on the branch where he puts them.

"Be careful what you wish for" is the message in Nora Keller's "The Ox Mask," a Korean tale about a lazy man (Tesoro) who wishes he had the carefree life of an ox. The man gets his wish when a mysterious mask merchant tricks him into wearing a mask that turns him into a bovine beast of burden toiling for a Korean peasant with a stereotypical redneck accent. By the time the man figures a way out of his predicament he's glad to help his wife at home.

"The Monkey Dance" tells of an unlikely friendship between a "monkey child" and a "crab baby." Playwright Jason Kanda reworks a Japanese folktale into a dumbed-down knock-off of Lisa Matsumoto's pidgin fairy tales complete with exaggerated heavy pidgin dialogue, valley-girl slang and rap-lite music. Kanda also goes for the lowest common denominator in children's theater by using the words "okole" and "butt" along with slapstick involving that body area (This type of material is always good for a cheap laugh and the kids at a school performance last week went ape when a nasty older monkey got pinched -- guess where? -- by the feisty crab).

Lessons learned here include that crabs and monkeys can be friends and that someone isn't necessarily tougher than you are just because they're older.

Director Cynthia See maintains a smooth pace through all four tales that kept the kids' attention throughout. Nothing drags. Everything works. Alfredo Garma (set design) does Po'okela-worthy work in adding a beautiful environment that neatly morphs from one geographical locale to another.

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