The monochromatic set reflects the bird character's selfishness with other characters bringing the color into the scenes. Nara Cardenas, front, stars as Chuchu and Cynthia See as Darzee.

A dramatic lesson
in sharing

Youth theater adapts classic
Kipling tale about cooperation

The Garden of
Rikki Tikki Tavi

Where: McCoy Pavilion, Ala Moana Park
When: 4:30 and 6:30 p.m. tomorrow, repeats May 3, 10 and 17
Tickets: $12 for adults; $6 for 18 and under, and over 60
Call: 839-9885
Note: Suitable for ages 5 and up; sign-interpreted performance 6:30 p.m. May 17

Maybe what George W. Bush and Saddam Hussein needed as boys was less testosterone and more empathy, less self-centeredness and more sharing. Less war games and more theater -- filled with stories like "The Garden of Rikki Tikki Tavi."

Consider the play, adapted by Honolulu Theatre for Youth's playwright-in-residence Y York from Rudyard Kipling's "Rikki Tikki Tavi" book. The storyline evolves in an island garden governed by a haughty, self-centered bird named Darzee whose basic philosophy is "It's mine!"

Pity poor Saddam and George W., neither of whom were able to witness friendship and cooperation in the making, as Darzee and Rikki figure out how to remove the cobra Nag from their home. Isle youngsters, however, can get in touch with their higher human qualities beginning tomorrow at McCoy Pavilion, when "The Garden of Rikki Tikki Tavi" makes its first return to the HTY stage since its 1998 premiere.

Set designer Jodi Endicott expresses the evolution of Darzee's world through the use of color.

"The story is about a selfish bird who won't share the garden. I work a lot in monochromatics, so I decided the garden would be, in a sense, monochromatic. The lack of color in the garden reflects her selfishness," Endicott says. "I saw the characters as colors of the garden, so when the other characters are allowed to enter, the garden becomes more colorful. As Darzee's character evolves, we add lighting, and the colors come alive even more."

Endicott's set is, in fact, a giant diorama made from recycled natural fibers such as moss, plant fibers and palm fronds. "People came by and said, 'This is amazing. We thought that was all garbage,' " she said.

The greenery is arranged on the set with paintings and sculptures by Endicott, a professional artist. The result is an alluring garden that spills out into the audience, something Endicott hopes will serve to draw in the audience to the story even more.

Junior Tesoro is Rikki, left, and Cynthia See is Darzee.

IT IS SUCH innovation that HTY director Mark Lutwak seeks when he goes out in search of set designers for his plays.

"Within the small theater community here, there's not (many) set designers. In fact, theirs is a very tiny community, and many of them are attached to other theaters," Lutwak says.

"With theater for young people, I look for designers who are unfettered in the imagination. So I seek out a lot of painters and sculptors. It can be tremendously challenging for these artists, because their craft is solitary, and a play is interactive. Their work is inhabited by characters, and they must work with 15 or 20 other people."

Yet Endicott was up to the challenge. Lutwak met her a year and a half ago at Marks Garage, where her artwork was on exhibit. "I looked at her stuff and said, 'Wow! This is great!' and bought a painting for my wife. As I got to know Jodi, I came to see that she's got a fantastical imagination."

After agreeing to design the "Rikki Tikki Tavi" set, Endicott got heavily involved in the play. "She heard actors, sat in on rehearsals and read the play to her own kids. And then she created a world that all kids are going to want to enter," Lutwak says.

Rikki (Junior Tesoro) learns that being selfish doesn't pay.

CREATING ART on behalf of children is old hat to Endicott, who usually works on a couple of projects each year with children. She created sculpture gardens alongside students at Aikahi and Makalapa elementary schools, and led another art project at Kipapa Elementary.

"Art can be life-changing to a child," Endicott says. "I've seen it myself -- students who weren't thriving began getting straight As and gaining confidence. Art gives kids a sense of freedom, it allows them to express themselves and find out who they are. And when they learn that, they develop self-esteem and excel."

As for live theater, Endicott says she takes her own children to "about four HTY productions a year.

"With plays, there's morals to discuss. They become a forum to talk about relationships and feelings. Then there's the creative aspect -- how they make the set, how they bring the story to life, what the story means.

"HTY plays provide such wonderful family time for us. We make it a whole event and have dinner out afterward.

"Seeing theater opens up possibilities to young people. It makes them realize they can do things to make the world a little better."

The Honolulu Theatre for Youth brings the childhood classic Rikki Tikki Tavi to life. Above, Jonathan Clarke Sypert, front, stars as Nag, and Cynthia See plays Darzee.

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