If Can, Can. If No Can, Bottles.
Eat, drink, and be merry! Is there deeper meaning to our regular social gatherings than these routine activities? On an island roughly 112 miles around, the company you keep often becomes more than just company, they become ohana. In Hawaii, your family is extended past blood, some of your family is chosen, some of your family is your kuleana to hanai. Potlucks in Hawaii are heightened to a level of iconic forms of cultural expression. To say locals are foodies is an understatement. What dish you bring can express your assertion of effort for acceptance into the group and respect for the host. Expecting just food without music and dance at a potluck? Well, then you’re not at a potluck in Hawaii. Kumu Kahua Theatre welcomes you to a cancelled party. Uncle’s Regularly Scheduled Garage Party is Cancelled Tonight! by Lee Cataluna, and directed by Harry Wong III and Wil Kahele, is a party in and of itself with, at times, sidesplitting humor and painful truths or untruths, as the case may be.
As the title suggests, Uncle (Wayne Pa’akaula) has cancelled his regularly scheduled garage party even though he and Cubby (Tyler Tanabe) invite the audience to be a part of their jam session by taking requests and encouraging sing-alongs during the pre-show. The party has already started, so you might as well join in and have some fun. As guests arrive and are informed the party is cancelled, somehow food and stories are exchanged. Zanita (Zan Timtim) brings her daughter, Julene (Maile Kapua’ala), JJ (Reb Beau Allen) brings his son, 3J (Kainoa Kelly). Bringing food or children, how can they be turned away? Everyone tries to find out why the party is cancelled in the midst of their talk story. One by one each guest shares the traditional Hawaiian art form of storytelling or mo’olelo through a modern play, stories, and setting to a modern audience. That is until… Aunty (Kati Kuroda) arrives to break up the “cancelled” party. Then the guests better bring their A-game or their running shoes.
Wong and Kahele have crafted believable characters and situations with a large cast and difficult pacing. They managed to block this cast of 14 on a small thrust stage, where sitting in the back row, it was possible not to miss a word or action. This is a large cast of heavy hitters with some serious chops delivering some not-to-be-missed performances. As Cataluna’s ninth show with Kumu Kahua, many of the actors have been in her previous shows and know how to deliver her characters and stories with an incredible punch. Pa’akaula and Tanabe make you feel at home while casually displaying their musical talents. Timtim and Kuroda scare and delight with their presence and command of the stage. This cast of characters work together to bring everyone’s stories both comedic and dramatic to life physically building upon one another’s. This build leads you to a couple, Ed (Jim Aina) and Lillian (Karen Kuioka Hironaga) who will have you rolling in laughter. Their comedic timing both vocally and physically is an experience like no other.
Upon entering the theatre, set designer Bulldog has transformed Kumu Kahua into an immersive typical garage and lanai. Boxes and stored items create the backdrop while tree branches, paper lanterns and strings of lights build the familiar party atmosphere. The audience is part of the party and all of the design elements reflect this.
I was fortunate enough to be part of the first Friday night audience and it was packed. Every pre-show is probably going to be different which is delightful. I laughed, I cried, I sang along with my seated stranger neighbor, which sparked friendly exchange. The show is referenced in the program as reminiscent of the "after party" to KKT shows where all that is needed is a bunch of actors, some food, and a guitar. Those after parties can go on all night, be referenced as legend, and be the night that sparked many lifelong friendships, hānai’s, and marriages… ohana. All actors can reference a few. Having seen and read some of Cataluna’s plays, I knew I was in for a treat, this one delivers.
Uncle’s Regularly Scheduled Garage Party is Cancelled Tonight! runs through July 1st at Kumu Kahua Theatre, 46 Merchant St., 808-536-4441, kumukahua.org