ON other Mondays, upward of 500 children might find themselves screaming with delight at the onstage antics provided by the Honolulu Theater for Youth in Ala Moana Park. But this was not one of those Mondays. Gary Pak's play "Beyond the Falls," which received its world premiere at the park's McCoy Pavilion, drew a crowd of barely 200.
HTY pond parableBy Scott Vogel
a timely pleasure
It must be immediately noted that the light turn-out had nothing to do with the quality of the production -- which is indisputably high -- but rather the HSTA strike which has thankfully now been settled. Still, for an adult sitting in the theater, surrounded by rows and rows of empty seats, "Beyond the Falls" was an unavoidably bittersweet experience.
On the one hand, the play felt lighter than air, sent airborne by all the laughing, happy private school children. On the other, you couldn't help but think of the 300 or so other kids who should be laughing too.
Pak's play takes place in a Hawaiian koi pond where three fish and a crayfish maintain an uneasy coexistence. There are feuds both inter-koi (the yellow and red koi discriminate against a colorless gray koi) and extra-koi (the crayfish is feared and loathed by all the koi).
What: "Beyond the Falls," presented by Honolulu Theatre for Youth
When: 4:30 and 6:30 p.m. Saturday, May 19 and 26
Where: McCoy Pavilion, Ala Moana Park
Cost: $10 for adults; $7.50 for students with I.D.; $5 for children 3 to 12 and seniors
The feuds might have gone on ad infinitum if it weren't for a violent storm which threatens the entire pond and which finally leads the population to conclude that their similarities outweigh their differences, and that cooperation is their best hope for survival.
Perhaps a violent storm should have been made to rain upon the governor and the HSTA, whose own koi pond was similarly mired in disputation. At any rate, both sides should have been compelled to attend "Beyond the Falls," both for the morals provided and to take a gander at all those empty seats.
The lessons are imparted, by the way, not only by Pak's script but via the production itself, which is evidently the result of a satisfying collaboration between the playwright, actors and design team. The action begins with a sort of fish-swimming dance (choreographed by Peter Rockford Espiritu) and performed on rollerblades by the three koi, Palaika (Louie Hung), Skye (Cat Gonzaga) and the much maligned Michio (Hermenigildo Tesoro Jr).
Small and gray, Michio quickly wins the sympathy of any child who's ever felt the pain of being excluded from the group. (And who hasn't?)
The role demands good comic timing, charming naiveté and the ability to emerge unscathed from several falls from his skates, all of which Tesoro performed superbly. He is ably assisted by Hung, whose Palaika is wishy-washy (fishy-washy?) to the extreme, and Gonzaga (though I couldn't help wondering why the cruelest role in the play was reserved for the script's only female player).
It's Gonzaga's Skye who pushes Michio down a slide meant to depict the poor koi's descent in Pond Down, presided over by the fearsome Crawdaddy (played by an actor with an equally fearsome name -- BullDog).
Crawdaddy is also known as Dah Monstah Crayfish, which is a reminder that the only children who might not find "Beyond the Falls" a delight are those not thoroughly fluent in pidgin. This reviewer, alas, is not and as such was at the mercy of surrounding children, all of whom proved ready and willing to translate such terms as poogle and chauncey, once the laughing had died down. (Sample baffling line: "This place is fo' ningees with no mo' color.")
On the day I saw the show, Crawdaddy -- whose home (or "hoem" as he prefers to call it) is actively constructed by the refuse others leave behind -- was a special favorite with the kids. Given an imaginative costume by Joseph Dodd (he uses tongs as pincers, much like a crayfish barbecuing steaks might) and a big, brassy performance by BullDog, it's not hard to see why.
Rather like the lion in "The Wizard of Oz," Crawdaddy's bark exceeds his bite, and soon he and Michio are Oscar-Felix-style friends. Crawdaddy persuades Michio that he is as colorful as the other koi, a perception that emboldens Michio to accomplish feats of bravery I won't reveal here.
Suffice it to say that the storm alluded to previously does indeed seem violent, and that's thanks to the set designs of, once again, Joseph Dodd and his clever way of using plastic screens to evoke raging rapids.
In fact, all of the set pieces are as imaginative as they are apt, from the sleek blue "Starlight Express"-like roller-blade ramps, to the artfully junky Pond Down, depicted as a veritable sea of painted bottled-water containers, old tires, and nice little touches like moldy pieces of Swiss cheese and a pair of worn-looking fuzzy dice. Dodd's set is worth the price of admission alone, but it's just one of this charming production's many pleasures.
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