Nara Cardenas plays a big-eared free spirit, Ito, and Monica Cho plays her big-nosed friend Jassmin, who can sniff out lies, in "The Last Paving Stone."

Testing the bounds
of youthful rebellion

"The Last Paving Stone": Presented by Honolulu Theatre for Youth 4:30 and 7:30 p.m. Saturdays, through Saturday, at Leeward Community College. Tickets are $12, $6 for 60-plus or 19 and younger. Call 839-9885.

Review by John Berger

The magical images created by live music are a key ingredient in Honolulu Theatre for Youth's production of "The Last Paving Stone." Henry Kapono uses a guitar to provide the musical "voice" of the Earth in this simple ecological parable about the danger of overdevelopment and social regimentation.

The target audience -- kids of upper elementary school age -- will relate most immediately to the antics of the comic heroine, a young big-eared girl named Ito (Nara Cardenas), and her equally comic adversaries, but adults will notice and appreciate the blending of blues and rock in Kapono's music.

Playwright Y York sets the story in a negative future in which every member of society is required to be productive. The lucky ones have "tasks" (activities that are enjoyable). The others have "jobs" (activities that are not enjoyable -- such as building wooden scooters on an assembly line). To be "unbusy" is undesirable and a sign of "loopy" tendencies.

Wooden scooters evidently require paved surfaces, and the entire earth has been paved over -- all except for one spot that measures perhaps 4 feet square. That's where little big-eared Ito goes to listen to the earth. Her big ears make it possible to hear the voice of the earth and "wiggle-wiggle" (dance) to its music.

None of this sits well with her parents -- her mother, Rama (Cynthia See), who grows plants in jars, and her father, Sydney (Aito Steele), who is the Paving Master in charge of the worldwide pave-over. A girl who likes to touch the bare ground, plant seeds in dirt and "wiggle-wiggle" is likely to end up with a job instead of a task. Not a fate they wish for their rebellious daughter.

Ito finds an ally in Jassmin (Monica Cho), a girl whose oversize nose gives her the ability to smell a lie. Jassmin thinks Ito is crazy to claim that the ground can talk, but Ito eventually finds a way to share her super-hearing with Jassmin and makes her a believer too.

Unfortunately for Ito, Jassmin, and the earth, the government requires that the last paving stone is to be lowered into place that very afternoon, and the two girls get steamrollered by the politicians in charge: Hizzonor (BullDog, in another fine performance) and Dolor (Kelly Williams).

PAST HTY productions of this type have sometimes presented the issues -- and the correct decision to be made -- in stark black and white. Playwright York raises the stakes a bit higher this time by slipping in a subplot in which Ito is offered a cushy "task" in Hizzonor's entourage if she'll agree to shut up and go with the program. Continue being a troublemaker, and she'll be working on the assembly line!

And, in a twist that could have been inspired by some of the state Legislature's shenanigans, Hizzonor and Delor also issue a proclamation that Ito must cover her ears with "ear cozies" so she can't hear anything they can't hear!

A subplot about political corruption and politicians who enrich themselves at public expense adds another facet to the story.

Playwright York also spends more time than usual on the potentially touchy topic of how far children can and should go in opposing their parents, and takes a passing look at the economic issues that arise when "development" is questioned. In the real world, there are always people whose livelihoods are based on destroying the environment or exploiting natural resources beyond sustainable limits. Building the H-3 freeway, for example, trashed cultural sites important to native Hawaiians but put food on some families' tables.

The story takes longer than necessary to get where it's going, but the last paving stone is eventually lowered into place and the music of the earth is stilled. In the real world, that would be the end of the story. In the imaginary world of "The Last Paving Stone," things turn out much better.

Cardenas is an effective protagonist as the youthful rebel.

BullDog stands out once again as a great comic villain; Hizzonor is a stereotypical bumbling politician so oblivious to reality that he doesn't realize that his assistant is actually running things. The comic energy level got a boost each time he appeared.

Williams, whose face is hidden behind goggles and who affects an odd noise midway between a cough and a chortle, clicked with the young audience as well.

Children also went crazy when a character's attempt to create a poem resulted in an effort that ended with the words "... in the nick of underpants."

Although the kids probably took the set and costumes for granted, Joseph D. Dodd (set and props designer) and Casey Cameron (costume design) make important contributions in helping director Mark Lutwak and the cast deliver York's message.

Dodd's seemingly solid and sterile set suggests a regimented, possibly totalitarian society, while Casey Cameron's cosmopolitan costumes have a distinct Asian look. It's instantly clear that this isn't Hawaii -- not yet, anyway.

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