BWW Reviews: Fully Immersed with Co-Lab Kaka'ako, Part 2


I move ahead now to the final performance, the culmination of two weeks of heroic collaboration in the name of art.  I am most hesitant to describe my impressions of the actors' performances and the play itself because I developed a real affection and admiration for The Players during the time I spent with them, and I question whether this will color my interpretation of the work.
(For Part one of this review, click here)

Having reviewed performances from the most mainstream to the most avant-garde, I am well aware of the broad spectrum of activity that can be called "performance art".  The process I observed of actors entering into relationship scenarios over and over again in the preceding weeks is imbued with the technique known as "The Method". Seeing the final performances this past weekend, it struck me that what I was witnessing was not so much players acting, but striving to achieve authentic relationships for the purpose
of giving life to the words of the script.

I began to think of acting, not so much as representing life, but carefully practiced trickery to allow the audience an escape from life. There was no escape from life in the stories that unfolded at the project space called Inter-Island Terminal. Life possibilities flowed through The Players, captured in a moment of impassioned dialogue, and then took wing into the future. This was my overall impression.

Location, location, location.... The setting for a performance means something. The environment in which a performance unfolds possesses its own character, enveloping and coloring the tone of the play. The setting for Co-lab Kaka'ako (Inter-island Terminal)

powerfully enhanced the reality, the rawness of the dialogue. The program describes IIT's mission as follows: "Since 2009, the mission of Inter-Island Terminal is to present programs and exhibitions in contemporary Art, Film and Design and to advance the role of the arts in innovation". It goes on to explain the vision of this space, a "home-base" for Hawaii's creative community. It has a "West Side Story" feel to it, with it's open studios and large central warehouse. The upper level walls had been painted with large graffiti-scapes which made an excellent backdrop for a number of the scenes. Simple folding chairs were provided for the audience, and the glow of a few stage lights defined the stage. The use of props was sparse: a jacket, a blind, a stylized graffiti art-piece of an eastern goddess. Given the intimacy and focus of the scenes, and the drama of the project space itself, any more embellishment would have been a distraction.

The show began with the morning class's play, entitled "The Shift".  Written by Jason Kanda, Produced by Harry Wong III Setting Kaka'ako, 1941 Actors: Lauren Ballesteros, Alex Hubbard, Kiana Rivera

I was quite frankly amazed that these players had only received the finished script three days prior to tonight's show. Their execution appeared flawless and effortless, their words filled with expression and all the passion and complexity that they had been building over the two weeks of preparation. I had missed the final rehearsal day at the performance space, and much action and movement had evolved from that one rehearsal.

The story line reveals a woman attempting to better the fortunes of herself and her family by taking work at a candy company in Kaka'ako (which actually existed in the 1940's). She must seek resolution between loyalty to her husband and his connections in the community, and loyalty to her coworkers who are being unfairly treated by a supervisor who also is connected to her husband's O'hana. It is a coming-of-age story about how the women in the factory develop friendships in their effort to take a stand for worker's rights.

The six, fast-paced scenes took place at the home of the worker, and on the floor of the Mendonca Candy factory. I was most struck by the grace with which The Players entered and exited, and how an economy of gestures and positioning within the space could instantly transform an intimate living room into a large factory room floor. The chemistry among the three actors was wonderful to observe, and each balanced and supported the performance of the others.

The evening class presented two plays. The first was entitled He Lei no Kaka'ako: Woven Memories

Written by Tammy Haili' opua Baker
Directed by John Wat

Setting: Kaka'ako Park, present day and recent past

Scene 1
Actor: Donna Blanchard
This haunting solo performance by Donna Blanchard was perhaps the most challenging of the evening. At the opening, we witness a woman cooing to her infant wrapped in a blanket. The sweetness with which she speaks and sings to the child is intentionally eerie, and gives one chills. Suddenly, she begins speaking with someone the audience can't see. It appears to be an authority figure like a security guard, or a social worker.

As I mentioned, there are no other actors. Donna demonstrates great dexterity and sensitivity to make this scene convincing; i.e., to make us believe there are others on the stage with her. It appears that they are trying to wrest the infant from the woman. She becomes panic-stricken, arguing that she is not homeless, that Kaka'ako is her home, and they have no right to take her baby. A tug-of-war seems to ensue and the blanket falls from her hands. There is no infant. She suddenly becomes calm again and hums to herself as she begins rolling the blanket back up, reforming the shape of a swaddled infant. The scene ends with her singing to it.

Scene 2
Actors: Allen Okubo, Charles Timtim, Donna Blanchard
Two men appear to be doing Tai Chi in a park. Their conversation reveals that they are father and son. The father is berating the son for all his past wrong doings. The son apologizes repeatedly. It is painful to see the wounds of the their relationship bared. It comes to light that the son is now homeless and living in the park, and the father is attempting to coax him to come home. The son tries to redeem himself in his fathers eye's, explaining about his passion for boxing, and how disciplined and focused he has become. Gradually, we are shown that it is the father's harsh treatment, and narrowmindedness, as much as the son's misbehavior that has torn these lives apart. Soon the father apologizes as well, and it seems the son will return home with him. But then it appears that the father has tricked the boy, because he seems to know when security appears to clear out the homeless squatters. The son feels betrayed and takes a stand with his friends, knowing they have nowhere to go.

The tension and grief between the father and son felt very real as performed by Allen and Charles respectively, and brought tears to my eyes.

Scene 3
Actors Charles Timtim, Donna Blanchard, Allen Okubo
In this scene, we are witnessing a community event. A raffle taking place, with winners gaining places of honor at the annual Holy Ghost Parade. Charles Timtim steals this scene in his portrayal of a local female "personality" in a voluminous mu'u mu'u. The process of drawing winning numbers out of an imaginary bowl gently pokes fun at local characters and gives an endearing window into the unvarnished lack of professionalism of a local community event.

Final Play: The Kewalo Holy Ghost
Written by Neal Milner
Directed by John Wat
Setting Kaka'ako Auto Repair Shop, Present

Actors Donna Blanchard, Allen Okubo, Charles Timtim
This performance was the strangest of the evening. The premise posed an unusual challenge for the main character (played by Donna) who embodied the disembodied in her portrayal of the Holy Ghost, come to Kaka'ako to quell hostility and unrest that threatens to tear asunder the fabric of the community. The scene begins with her "in heaven" at the top of a staircase that leads up to the second floor landing, dressed in a loud pink mu'u mu'u. She is having a conversation with God (heard but unseen) about her next assignment. The scene is irreverently funny as she explains her strategy of appearing in the community disguised
as a mainland tourist.

Next, we witness a violent exchange between an autobody shop manager and an urban artist who has just spray-painted a mural of the face of a goddess on the side of the garage. The manager is furious and brandishes a wrench at the graffiti artist and threatens to call the police. Donna arrives in the guise of a tourist seeking directions and inserts herself between the men. She distracts them with questions about the area, and with trips to the soda machine, offering them beverages. This tactic annoys the two men, but also manages to diffuse the aggression and threat of imminent violence, and she begins to act as mediator, trying to get each to see the value of the other's point of view.

Tensions ease, but there seems to be an impasse in regards to what is to be done about the mural. The Holly Ghost departs, unsure as to whether she has done any good.

An ironic conversation ensues between the Holy Ghost and God at the top of the staircase. The HG laments that her role is so eternally peripheral (and perhaps ineffectual). She expresses regret about the way that, even with the best intentions, she is constantly putting her 'foot in her mouth'.

Meanwhile, it seems that the two men - left to themselves again - have continued their argument. But now there appears to be an awareness of the humanity in the other beneath the exchange of words. With new insight into the elder's reverence for the history of Kaka'ako, the artist relents and pledges to clean the wall. He also gets the garage manager to see his bigger vision for the future of the community. Eventually, both men come to understand how deeply each cares about Kaka'ako from their different perspectives. The old man tells the younger that the work can wait until tomorrow, and offers to give the young man a ride to the beach. They go off arm in arm.

Did I detect a heightened level of commitment for the project that would not have been there had not each participant played an active role in the creative process; i.e., had it not been a collaboration ? I believe so. The theme of O'hana at the heart of the work was profound and potent. I believe a spirit was evoked in this process, that will hopefully enhance the over-riding vision of Kumu Kahua Theater, Interisland Terminal, and the community of Kaka'ako. And, it is this spirit of vibrant community action played out in microcosm, sustained by compassion, reconciliation and tolerance, which will (hopefully) breath new life into the greater human community.

For information on future events, click here:

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