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‘Yellowman’ Shines at TAG

‘Yellowman’ Shines at TAG

High Yellow; noun, Slang: Sometimes Disparaging and Offensive. A term used to refer to a light-skinned black person.

TAG veterans Wendy Pearson and Curtis Duncan once again share the stage, this time in Dael Orlandersmith's, Yellowman-- a finalist for the 2002 Pulitzer Prize in Drama.

The play opens with Alma (Pearson) telling of her life growing up in the islands off the coast of South Carolina. Alma is a large, black woman, and as a child becomes fast friends with Eugene (Duncan), a light-skinned, "high yellow" boy. The story follows their relationship from the early 1960s to the mid-1980s. It highlights issues of race and class between the dark- and light-skinned of rural South Carolina. Both Alma and Eugene deal with personal tragedies with family and contemporaries. Eugene's father, a dark-skinned black man, resents Eugene for being lighter skinned. Alma's mother and female relations reflect on how much happier they could have been married to a "high yellow" man, fantasizing on how they would thrive in love and wealth. This helps to motivate Alma to break the cycle of poverty as she seeks to better herself. She teaches herself to speak better English like Eugene, putting herself through school and moving to New York, leaving Eugene behind. The two stay in touch, ultimately consummating their relationship. What happens after, although tragic and heartbreaking, is an insight into the struggles of love, leading to a crime of passion and heartbreak.

This is an actor's dream. As a play written with eight characters, it is also designed for two actors and Pearson and Duncan play them all-- at times playing the opposite gender. Pearson shows her talent and versatility, slipping seamlessly from one character into the next. There is never any confusion as her character portrayals are clear and concise. Her accents and inflections add color and depth.

Duncan, himself no stranger to the stage, also owns his characterizations. He deftly plays each with strong choices, from the innocence of a young boy to the anger and heavy disdain of an abusive, domineering father abusing his son both physically and emotionally.

Although heavy in content, both actors carry the story from beginning to end, leaving their audience exhausted and grateful for the experience. There is a point in the story when Alma and Eugene begin to heat up the stage, detailing their sexual desire for one another, they become closer physically but the fire teasingly stays at a low flame.

Director, Derrick Brown, allows his actors to move freely through the minimal stage, making the blocking fresh and organic. Attention is sometimes at a deficit as focus is pulled by the institutional grey color of the minimal box set but all in all, this show is definitely a must see.

Yellowman plays at The Actors' Group through February 5.

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