Allen and Kusaka Light Up Twelf Nite
The best thing about the Hawaiian Mission House summer theatre is that its seasonal production is performed outdoors at their Kahua Ho’okipa stage. Audience members sit exposed to the elements, which in Hawaii usually means gentle rolling trade winds, and sunset sherbet skies that slowly reveal a twilight starscape alit by a beautiful Hawaiian moon.
Of course it also means that one may have to endure the ever passing low roar of the traffic on King street sprinkled with the intermittent emergency vehicle sirens and horn blasts and/or maybe the sounds of hundreds of joyous celebrants across the street at Honolulu Hale Civic Grounds.
"But how can there be both?," you ask, as well you may. Can brah, can! Just gotta focus. All that traffic and celebratory hubub can turn into whitenoise hum so you can enjoy the play. Go try go! Chance ‘um! I no grease you! Plus this play they stay doing right now is Twelf Nite O Whateva by James Grant Benton. Brah, he was part of the genius that was Booga Booga, you rememba them? Was him, Rap Replinger and Ed Ka’ahea. Brah, they was comedy renessaince back in the day. Probably what all local comedy is today, went most likely stem from these guys…and let us not forget the great Andy Bumatai and Frank Delima. All these guys used to pack the house at Territorial Tavern, The Noodle Shop and wherever else they made appearances. Aykajeez, I digress…sorry eh?!
Written by James Grant Benton, Twelf Nite O Whateva, an adaptation of William Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night or What You Will, was initially produced in 1974 and enjoyed many remounts and revivals on Hawaii stages throughout the years.
The action takes place in Hawaii and as such the characters speak Pidgin English, a Hawaiian Creole language started by early plantation workers of diverse ethnicities. Borrowed words and phrases from each group created a form of language and communication still used to this day and is also a course taught at the University of Hawaii.
So, Lahela has been shipwrecked in a violent storm and in the process she has lost her twin brother, Loka. She disguises herself as a boy and assumes the name Honey Boy for protection. Thus disguised, Lahela becomes a page in the service of Prince Amalu. It seems that Prince Amalu is having little luck courting Mahealani, who is in mourning for the deaths of her father and brother. As Amalu’s proxy, Lahela is sent to Mahealani with love letters. Lahela refuses to budge until she is let in to see Mahealani; Mahealani, intrigued by the impudent young "boy," contrives to get him to return by sending her steward, Malolio, after him with one of her rings. Lahela realizes to her dismay that Mahealani has fallen for her Honey Boy rather than Prince Amalu—further complicated by the fact that Lahela herself has had stirrings for Amalu. Auwe! So kapakahi mix up this play stay and we only halfway through the first act with more twists and turns to be untwisted and unturned. But true to form for Shakespeare.
Having been written in the early seventies, the pidgin English words and phrases are linguistic gold and bring to mind a different era, of maybe one or two generations ago. That being said, careful attention must be paid to not only how these localisms are pronounced but also how they are phrased in the context that they're being used. Ho brah, kind of verbose, no? Little bit small kine maybe, but it makes a difference.
Shakespeare’s English is already difficult to the untrained ear if spoken by an untrained tongue. When you add pidgin English to the mix, ho tita you in for the ride of your life. But no worry— for the most part the cast does well with the script. One way you may be able to follow is if you're familiar with the original. But this might be also in part due to venue—where Ho’okipa is open to the elements, concentration is essential as you're really following two unfamiliar dialects which is pidgin slightly twisted into Shakespeare's prose. Brah, that's hard rub.
There were wonderful moments as Malolio (Brandon Caban) rides a City and County Biki onto the stage and also does a small commercial for the vehicle as well. Several references were given to the 16th annual Korean Festival celebrating across the street—-(didn't this happen last year?) all to the delight of the audience.
Will Ha’o gets the most out of his actors as they play their parts on stage. Reb Beau Allen has many great moments as Kohala. His comic timing and stage shenanigans are great fun to watch. Also noteworthy performances are given by Kahana Ho, Alan Okubo, Vivian Maile Kapuaala, Justin Chun and Randall Galius. However, special mention must be given to Kenny Kusaka who plays Lope the fool. Kusaka runs away with the show. He warms up the audience at pre-show and during intermission, and not from the stage—-Bradda sits among the audience, talking story and telling jokes like he was at one family reunion. Clearly he was the audience favorite with his over the top characterization and easy going, laid back swagger.
Costumes by Rose Wolfe are colorful and appropriate without giving away a certain time or era. However, Hawaiian Mission Houses may need to consider a new sound system or body mikes for actors that don't interfere with their costumes. Because of microphone placement, a small tap on the chest or a hug from another character echoed loud and hollow throughout the land.
Another great thing about HMH is that you can bring a picnic to enjoy on the lawn and a bar is available where you may purchase soft drinks, wine or beer starting at 5pm, before the show.
Twelf Nite O Whateva plays two more weekends; Fridays and Saturdays August 11 and 12 and also August 25 and 26. Seating opens at 6:30 with Curtain at 7:00 pm. Go stay come my Braddas and titas, I promise, you going have good fun. Shoots!