Fall 2006 Theatre Preview
Productions journey to ancient Hawaiʻi and gritty New Orleans
Get ready for some drama. University of Hawaiʻi theatre programs will stage a pair of contrasting pieces this fall, each with a strong, but dramatically different, sense of place. One is an ancient legend set along the shores and mountains of Hawaiʻi; the other, a landmark American play set in the Deep South.
- Naupaka—Operatic take on Hawaiian myth
- Streetcar—Classic drama set in New Orleans
- Oklahoma!—Musical tale of the American west
Photo by Don Ranney, Jr.
One of Hawaiʻi’s most recognizable plants will receive the royal treatment. Common throughout the islands, naupaka (Scaevola) shrubs bear a distinct white flower with half its petals missing. Behind the flower is one of the captivating love stories of Hawaiian folklore, a story that will be brought to life in a three-act, Hawaiian dance opera at Leeward Community College Theatre in October 2006.
The driving force of the project is Peter Rockford Espiritu, founder and artistic director of Tau Dance Theater and one of the preeminent figures in Hawaiʻi dance. The 1982 Leeward graduate was honored by the school as a distinguished alumnus.
Espiritu’s dance company, which celebrated its 10th anniversary this year, is known for an eclectic blend of modern dance that incorporates such genres as pop, ballet, jazz and pohuli, an offshoot of hula. Tau Dance has created such innovative works as Petroglyphs and Hānau Ka Moku–An Island Is Born.
Naupaka is Espiritu’s newest labor of love. Like Hānau Ka Moku, which was inspired by the undersea birth of the developing island Lōʻihi, it is a major endeavor three years in the making. Espiritu devoted the first year alone to amassing the legend’s myriad versions. All accounts share a common theme of separated lovers, one banished to the mountains and the other to the seashore (hence the half-flower).
Espiritu consulted an array of sources, including the Bishop Museum and various kūpuna, before composing a final draft with the help of Puakea Nogelmeier, Hawaiian language professor at UH Mānoa. Their version relates the doomed romance between Naupaka, a highborn aliʻi, and ʻŌhikimakaloa, a member of the kauā (slave) class.
"It is definitely not like any other story out there, and I don’t expect my version to be the definitive version," Espiritu says, "but it will be a complete story that makes sense from beginning to end."
Espiritu took a scientific look into naupaka as well. Studies with UH’s Lyon Arboretum taught him that the mountain (naupaka kuahiwi) and ocean (naupaka kahakai) varieties are not related, further substantiating his understanding of the story.
Naupaka will mesh old and new, Hawaiian and Western. The tale will be told entirely in the Hawaiian language with hints of hula kahiko and kīhōʻalu, traditional slack key guitar. Yet the play will have a modern feel, says Espiritu, with Western dance, falsetto and live orchestral and choral compositions.
The ambitious production is a reflection of Tau Dance’s unique blend of art and a perfect expression of its mission. Espiritu, whose troupe is composed entirely of local dancers, makes no apologies for a contemporary approach to an ancient Hawaiian tale. He says it has always been the company’s kuleana to "further the culture respectfully" and serve as a bridge between generations. "If we don’t present works that represent us now, we’ll only have the past," he says.
"We need to create work that represents today, so that people later on have something to look back on and say, "Yeah, this is what they were all about.’"
Although opera is an unconventional method for Hawaiian storytelling, Espiritu, believes the naupaka legend is more than deserving of epic treatment as a tragic morality tale. He promises an entertaining night of action and intrigue and hopes his production will open eyes and minds.
"Legends were put in place for a reason," he says. "It isn’t just ʻlet me tell you a story.’ It’s there to teach you something."
Dates: Oct. 7 at 8 p.m.
Ticket Information: Leeward CC box office, 808-455-0385
A Streetcar Named Desire
Image by Brett Botbyl
In November, Mānoa’s Kennedy Theatre will present Tennessee Williams’ A Streetcar Named Desire, one of the famed playwright’s earliest—and certainly most acclaimed—works. The play won the 1948 Pulitzer Prize, and the movie adaptation a few years later garnered 12 Academy Award nominations, winning four. The story, which centers on the clash between iconic characters Blanche DuBois and her brother-in-law Stanley Kowalski, is set in sultry New Orleans.
It’s been more than three decades since Kennedy Theatre last staged the American classic, and it’s taken a remarkable twist of fate to bring it back to stage. Lurana Donnels O’Malley, associate professor of theatre history and the play’s director, was born and raised in New Orleans. She conceived the project, in part, as a tribute to her hometown following the ravaging effects of Hurricane Katrina.
The connections grow deeper. O’Malley’s artist father and Williams were once neighbors in the heart of the French Quarter. Johnny Donnels’ gallery opened in 1945 on St. Peter Street, next to the apartment where Williams penned Streetcar after World War II. The family moved to Desire Street when O’Malley was a teenager. "For a long time in high school I was actually taking the bus called ʻDesire’," she recalls laughingly. "The play has a lot of resonance with the area and my life…it’s very special to me."
Her initial reaction to Katrina was gratitude that family members and their property were safe. The devastation began to weigh on her when she revisited her hometown months later.
"I used to say before Katrina that New Orleans never changes, it’s always the same and very wonderful," says O’Malley, who returns to the city once a year. "When I went back in December it was pretty shocking. Some parts looked absolutely fine, and in some parts, every house, every block was just hollowed out." Her father’s gallery, as with much of the French Quarter, escaped unscathed.
Now O’Malley wants to bring a feel for New Orleans to Mānoa through Streetcar. Inspired by the works of her father, an accomplished painter and photographer, she is collaborating with set and light designers to incorporate some of the features of his art. "There’s a wonderful kind of broken-down quality to the French Quarter," she says, "a beauty in decay, and it’s captured in his work."
O’Malley hopes to underscore the play with New Orleans jazz from the era and to add platforms, typically used in Kennedy’s kabuki productions, to help replicate the vibrant life on the streets of the Quarter.
Tackling Streetcar is intimidating, she admits, particularly due to the film version’s stronghold in American pop culture. Noting the differences between the play and the movie, she says her take will include a wider, and perhaps more sympathetic, emphasis on Blanche and the ghosts that haunt her. (The role will be played by undergraduate student Guen Montgomery).
Streetcar is also the pilot for a new program at Kennedy Theatre called Page to Stage. Streetcar is not just a familiar play that can reach a wider audience, she insists. It is also an educational vehicle for addressing themes of sexuality, gender and culture clash. Page to Stage encourages classes, both high school and college, to study the play and then experience the performance at Kennedy. The theatre department is providing curricular support materials as well as scheduling sessions so students can meet with the director, designers and cast to discuss the play. Response has been extraordinary, says O’Malley. The Kapiʻolani Community College theatre department and numerous local public and private high schools have already signed up.Page to Stage will continue in the spring with Kennedy’s production of Shakespeare’s As You Like It.
Dates: Nov. 10, 11, 16, 17, 18 at 8 p.m.; Nov. 19 at 2 p.m.
Ticket Information: On sale at www.etickethawaii.com and 808 944-BOWS beginning Sept. 18 and at Kennedy Theatre box office and outlets beginning Oct. 30
Another place, another time
Windward Community College will present another classic with a unique sense of place in this fall’s rendition of Oklahoma! The toe-tapping, Broadway record–breaking, Pulitzer Prize–winning comic musical is based on Lynn Riggs’ rural folk drama about farmers and ranchers in the territorial west.
It was Rodgers and Hammerstein’s first collaboration and the first show choreographed by Agnes de Mille. Director Ron Bright plans a fresh interpretation to the Palikū stage based on the original script rather than the familiar 1955 film version.
Dates: Oct 13–Nov. 12, Fri and Sat at 7:30 p.m., Sun. matinee