Roping a Winner at HTY
Note: Kapono Nā‘ili‘ili has a kahako over the “a” in Nā‘ili‘ili, but Squarespace does not support all Hawaiian diacritical marks just yet. We apologize for this inaccuracy
It was as if the stage were carefully dipped by a caramel sunset. The wood creating the stables and entrances, the straw keeping the structures together, the various farm and country accouterments hanging and waiting around the full-sized wooden horse in the center, all of it came together for a very welcoming atmosphere. The images of a ranch and cowboys and wrangling cattle all over the islands of Hawaii are not ones that immediately come to mind when thinking of Hawaii’s culture, and thus Honolulu Theatre for Youth is doing a service not just for the young ones in the audience but our community at large. “Our Stories” is the theme for their season, a delightful reminder to celebrate the various cultures and stories that surround us all. Their next entry in that season, Paniolo: Stories and Songs from the Hawaiian Cowboy continues this theme in spades.
Moses Goods (playwright, , costume design, composer) and Kapono Nā‘ili‘ili (sound design, composer) work together to bring stories of different paniolo of old to life, sharing the stage in song and storytelling alike. A swift, simple, yet striking nonetheless costume change differentiates themselves from the various paniolo of history they are playing, like Mexican cowboys, a youth inspired by a paniolo queen on parade, and even a paniolo that lost his hand in a scary bull incident. The pair, thanks to Goods’ writing and research, shed light not only on who and what the paniolo were, but also how the culture and land around them changed with the times. We learn of the long and arduous journeying paniolo needed to take to transport cattle from island to island, how many paniolo families stay paniolo families by passing their wisdom down to their children, and how well paniolo did when they journeyed across the ocean to compete in a roping competition. Director Eric Johnson and Scenic/Props/Lighting/Projection Designer Chesley Cannon did not need to create a flashy production as Goods and Nā‘ili‘ili just whisk the audience away on horseback with their natural charm. Even the video projections, which are usually Cannon’s forte, were dialed back with either real footage taken from yesteryear or running them through an old-film filter, keeping everything within the realm and elevating the stories and songs that Goods and Nā‘ili‘ili were weaving. In his playwright’s note, Goods scratches the surface of the great lengths and distances and conversations he took part of in researching this not-so-known part of Hawaiian culture. The tremendous work he and the whole production team have put in is reflected in this rich and warming production, making a performance that is both strong and humble, just like the paniolo featured in it.
Gallop and run to see this fantastic production, you will be met with a ride fit for the whole family! Paniolo: Stories and Songs from the Hawaiian Cowboy is playing on Saturdays at 4:30pm through November 17 at Tenney Theatre, with an 11:00am Sensory Friendly/ASL performance on the morning of the 17th.