The Akua Must Be Crazy (Crazy Good!)
It is easy to miss Honolulu Theatre for Youth, or HTY. Located on Queen Emma Square off of Beretania and Alakea, folded into the wings of the Cathedral of Saint Andrew, Tenney Theatre (the name of the house HTY currently performs in) can be easily glanced over if you don't know what you're looking for. Once found though, a treasure of our theatre community shines, and this season is dedicated to the "power of the people." Watching and experiencing stories from China, France, and Micronesia to the multi-generational stories of the local people living with us here, HTY is committed to productions highlighting the diverse cultures that not only make up Hawaii, but the world, and introducing them to young audiences the state over. Alongside playwright Moses Goods (and his friends), HTY welcomes a new chapter into their season: Kinolau.
Kinolau is an anthology of stories told by the four piece cast: Goods, Kealoha Kelekoli, Lelea'e "Buffy" Kahalepuna-Wong, and Kapono Na'ili'ili. These four come together to tell stories of many the kinolau, or the physical manifestations of the akua, of the gods of Hawaii. From tales about Pele moving to the Big Island while fighting her sister to a smooth and cool Kamapua'a fighting with a rival shapeshifter to flora in a forest talking about why it's okay for a hula dancer to pick their blossoms for her lei, there are a wide variety of stories both quick and epic, hilarious and tragic. This production is family friendly, as Goods has managed to distill many raw and visceral Hawaiian folktales into versions that are simple and "PG" enough for younger audiences while still preserving the heart and essence of each. In fact, the master storytelling from them all does well to introduce very advanced topics to children in a fun and constructive way. Famine, parents losing their child, and sexual promiscuity have all been told in a way that all ages will be able to understand (for example, the latter of the three was reduced to "kissing" to great comedic effect).
The tales and legends of Hawaii were told through oral traditions- storytelling was a very critical component of keeping the culture and legends alive. The cast works together seemingly effortlessly to bring these stories to life. There are brilliant bits of props, headwear, and set to help, but the true strength of this production lies in how this ensemble is able to command the audience and whisk them off to a time where this magic was alive with their words. By addressing the audience directly, like how one would tell a story over a campfire, we are treated to an experience that is both exhilarating and intimate.
The show wows technically as well. Na'ili'ili as the Sound Designer and Composer has a multitude of instruments at his disposal, both contemporary and classically Hawaiian. He has woven a soundscape that takes the stories being told and elevates them, making forests and seas teem with life and helping us understand kinolau and the moon through lyrical song. Chesley Cannon's projections help round out the production. By using stylized animations, creative see-through work, and choice pictures and textures, Cannon lends a kinetic aesthetic when needed and is able to pull back if the story calls for a simpler texture or image.
I fully encourage you to take your family to this show. Your family doesn't need to have children, much like you don't have to be young, to enjoy all this production has to offer. That being said, another one of the joys I had while watching this show was seeing the children react so well to the stories being told- children's laughter is good for even the most jaded of souls!. Kinolau is a playful and refreshing take on tales of Hawaii that we all have grown up with in the islands. There is only one more day to catch this show, and that is February 17 at 4:30pm and 7:00pm, with the 7:00pm performance having the added bonus of being an ASL performance. Tickets are available at the box office one hour prior to the performance as well as at www.htyweb.org.