Find Hope on the Wings of ‘Dragonfly’
By Guest Staff Reviewer Ryan "Oki"naka . Ryan is an actor, improvisor, asst. director, and playwright. His play iHula premiered last fall at Kumu Kahua Theater.
I had the pleasure of experiencing the opening performance [of the free touring shows] of Dragonfly, a world premiere by Playbuilders of Hawai‘i Theater Company in collaboration with the Foster Care Training Committee. Based on actual interviews with Hawaii’s foster care community, the show shines a bright light on the realities of the foster care system, the struggles those involved face, and the positive impact it makes in the community. Though billed as a play in the program, Dragonfly is in fact a musical; and damn good one at that.
Dragonfly follows the heartbreaking yet hopeful story of Tara (played by Becky Mcgarvey), a local girl thrown into Hawaii’s foster care system. Her mother Nikki (played by Aimee Nelson), is a young single parent unprepared for the responsibility of caring for a child due to bad choices and drug abuse, and this weakens her ability to be a capable mother. Tara is placed in a foster home in Waianae and over the course of her life struggles with drug abuse, sexual identity, sexual abuse, and traversing a system that just doesn’t seem to be working for her. Nearly every character in the story is based off of a real person’s experience. The characters of Uncle Arthur (Alan Castillo) and Aunty Allene (Norma Combs), are two very real individuals: Arthur and Allene Uesugi, who have fostered over 300 children in their home in Waianae.
Monologues detailing different personal stories from Hawaii’s Foster Care community are interspersed throughout the play. Though powerful moments were present in the show, it didn’t flow as naturally as I'd like. I was confused at times, uncertain if the monologues were being told to just the audience or to the characters on stage. I wasn’t sure if certain information was meant to be pertinent to the story of Dragonfly or meant to be informative on behalf of the foster care community. Regardless, these monologues were some of the most memorable moments of the show. In particular, the character James (played by Robert Yokoyama), a disabled wheelchair-bound foster youth, tells the story of how he was placed in a home and those meant to care for him chose to neglect and abuse him. This moment literally brought me to tears. Wonderful musical numbers are also sprinkled throughout the show. Each song was beautifully sung by the cast, very well written, and elevated the story.
Mcgarvey shines as Tara delivering a very compelling and natural performance, combining her ability to dance, act, and sing! Alexis Bugarin, one of the youngest cast-members delivers a show-stopping performance, singing a beautiful ballad in the first act. Nelson as Nikki also delivered a very emotional performance as a mother who simply could not provide her daughter with the life she deserved. Overall, the show is thought provoking, heart wrenching, yet hopeful and leaves you with this urge to get involved in the community. I have a feeling this story merely brushes the surface of the complexities that is our foster care community. Is it a system that’s perfect? Unfortunately, no. Not every child has a “Annie-ish” happy ending. But it is a system that is filled with people like the Uesugis who are committed to doing as much as they can to enrich the lives our keiki. Dragonfly showcasing that commitment beautifully.
Congratulations to Terri Madden (writer), Will Ha’o (director), Ruth Shiroma Foster (musical director) and the cast and crew of Playbuilders of Hawai‘i for giving a voice to Hawaii’s community. The plays and musicals happening on Broadway are great and all, but Hawaii has a rich story to tell and it deserves our attention. Be sure to catch Dragonfly’s special engagement at ARTS at Marks Garage: May 18th-May 27st. For more show information visit www.playbuilders.org