Friday, January 31, 2003


The comic book character Darkweed (Jonathan Egged, top left) and his creator, Fred (Chris Doi), watch Fred's brother (Terry Allen) in jealousy as he puts the moves on Evie (Cindy Beth Davis) in "Darkweed," written by MFA candidate Deborah Poage and directed by MFA candidate Sammie Choy.

Heroic ‘Darkweed’
entertains with its tale
of teen struggles

By John Berger

The premise is familiar but the story is entertaining nonetheless as Chris Doi and Jonathan Egged star as youthful would-be graphic novelist William "Fred" Frederick and his fictional superhero in "Darkweed" at the University of Hawaii-Manoa Ernst Lab Theatre.


Presented by the University of Hawaii at Manoa Department of Theatre and Dance

Where: Ernst Lab Theatre, UH

When: 8 p.m. today and tomorrow, and 2 p.m. Sunday

Tickets: $9 general; $7 for seniors, military, UH faculty and staff, youth and non-UH students; $3 for UH students with a spring 2003 ID

Call: 956-7655

Egged has the title role. Darkweed is a superhero whose power consists of "the ability to go unnoticed, like a weed next to a fence that can't be cut," and who can force people to confront unpleasant truths about themselves -- often with fatal results.

We first see Darkweed in action tapping into the anger of a local politician's wife who is loyally sign-waving while her promiscuous husband is probably on the phone talking to the young intern he secretly refers to as "Banana Girl." When hubby finally joins her on the street corner, Darkweed taps into his anger and frustrations as well.

It's then we learn that Darkweed is the creation of a teenage loner named William Frederick. William, who prefers to be called "Fred," finds the life he experiences writing and illustrating graphic novels much more to his liking than the real world, where the student newspaper has stopped printing his work because it's too dark and violent, and his high school counselor, who happens to be the political candidate's wife, thinks he has mental problems.

What would she say if she knew he keeps a life-size inflatable woman dangling in a hangman's noose in his bedroom?

Fred must also deal with his obnoxious older brother, Ray, and Ray's girlfriends. One is rich, busty, sexually aggressive Sasha, who dismisses Fred as a loser. The other is Evie, who tells Fred that his stories were the best thing in the school paper and that she appreciates his talent.

Fred, who is -- to borrow a phrase from the Coasters -- "a flop with chicks," doesn't know how to relate to either of them. It isn't long before Darkweed tries to "help" him.

MUCH OF WHAT follows will come as no surprise to anyone familiar with the premise. Fred finds the line between reality and imagination dissolving so completely that Darkweed becomes as real as Ray, Sasha and Evie. He also finds that the dark superhero has a mind of his own.

The press release and the program notes indicate how student playwright Deborah Poage intends the final scenes to be interpreted. That particular scenario is fortunately not clearly dictated by Sammie Choy's direction, and "Darkweed" is a far more interesting theatrical experience because of it.

Fred's ruminations on the nature of power, the potential for "good" superheroes to indulge in psychopathic behavior, the temptation for voyeuristic misuse of superpowers such as X-ray vision, and the merits of physical and mental power are thought-provoking and worthy of post-show consideration. And with Doi and Egged in the major roles, "Darkweed" is entertaining comic theater as well.

Egged, who delivered the best performance by an actor of either gender in last fall's uneven Kennedy Theatre Mainstage production of "Lysistrata," distinguishes himself in a completely different type of character role as the aggressive yet vulnerable superhero with a thing for long knives.

Egged has some great lines and good scenes; one of the funniest moments comes when Darkweed is led to believe that his name is derived from the pejorative term "dickweed."

Doi seems a bit too good-looking to be believable as the designated loner nerd but is effective in playing out the plight of a guy for whom reality is a poor substitute for the world of his imagination. Doi and Egged work well together throughout this long but never boring one-act play.

Cindy Beth Davis (Evie), another survivor of last fall's assault on "Lysistrata," adds a third strong performance in a scene in which Evie and Fred talk about superheroes.

Gilbert Molina (Candidate Arneson) steps forward in another pivotal scene as the politician materializes in Fred's bedroom and challenges the would-be graphic novelist to become a man of power in the real world. Alexandria Baldwin (Mrs. Arneson), Terry Allen (Ray) and Jessica Behner (Sasha) add to the overall success of this impressive production in supporting roles, and Dan Gelbmann's elaborate set is another important asset in turning "Darkweed" into great theater.

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