Actor/Director William Kahele Adds Another Page to his Resume—Playwright
Well-known in local theatre circles for his acting and directing, William Kahele has now gone in a new direction; he has written a play called Living Room which premiered Jan. 18 at Kumu Kahua.
The play opens in a studio strewn with cardboard boxes and liquor bottles. This is where the lead character Eli battles his “ghosts” while trying to complete a suicide attempt. These ghosts manifest themselves either as he remembers them or as they were described to him. So his mother, for example, who died when he was three, has been painted to him as wholly good, i.e., as the Blue Fairy.
Clearly depressed, Eli blames his situation on the father and two grandmothers who raised him and on the mother who “abandoned” him. He has intermittent visits from a plain-clothes detective investigating a stolen gun. Of course this is the gun which Eli persistently raises to his temple when the detective is not around. At the end of Act One, however, it is not that gun which goes off.
In the second act, Eli is recovering in the hospital under the care of an overly friendly/sexy but kooky doctor and a nurse who is only too glad to get rid of him. After a long scene change, we are then back in Eli’s living room where he seems to be starting a new relationship with the detective who shot him, although where exactly that is going is unclear.
Many familiar stories and shows are referenced, like Pinocchio, Rent, Breakfast at Tiffany’s, Night, Mother, and Into the Woods. It seems Eli feels too tied up to become a “real boy.” His younger self, Boy, played by Ricky Cardenas, tries wordlessly to point him in the right direction.
Daryl Bonilla does a fine job of representing Eli’s conflicts and frustrations. Will Ha’o as Eli’s father and Kahana Ho as his grandmother (and later as the comedic nurse) bring an honesty to their roles which make them very believable to the audience. The other actors haven’t quite made the roles their own yet.
The play itself could still use some work. There is a real disconnect between Acts I and II. In the first we see Eli struggling with his demons. We understand something about violence being passed down in families and about a suicide’s need to organize his belongings so as not to leave a mess for others. In the second act the play moves more into comedy. It seems that Eli is quickly cured with pills, no psychological counseling sessions. The developing gay relationship doesn’t have time to really go anywhere, and the play ends rather abruptly.
The contrast between the psychodrama of Act I and the sit-com feel of Act II is provocative but not fully worked out. In the end, has Eli come to terms with his demons or just submerged them with medication? The last line (“Mom?”) leaves us thinking he still has a long way to go.
As always, Bravo! to Kumu Kahua for encouraging new plays and new playwrights. Congratulations, too, to Wil Kahele on his new role as playwright; we’ll be looking forward to play #2.