Get to Know These Demigods
I did not know what I was in for when I was coming to see this play. One of my peers said I'd enjoy it, and it reminded them of a previous show we've worked on together. Walking into Kumu Kahua, I see the poster for Demigods Anonymous- a shadowy figure with glasses watching as a guy tries to wrangle a sharkman. I enter the house, and a 90's mix is playing. Then, the play begins, and within the first five minutes I see the exact same scene I saw on the poster unfold before my eyes. As a graphic designer, there is a silent appreciation in my heart for Harry Wong III's direction of Noa Helela's alt-1999 nerd fest. As an audience member, I laugh heartily and cheer for more.
Demigods Anonymous is set in an alternative 1999 Hawaii. This alternative 1999 plays host to a world rife with "Demigods," or people that have the power to transform into various animals. Are these demigods actually connected to any mythological pantheon, like the Hawaiian ones we know of? I might have missed that detail. The story clips at a brisk pace as we follow Noe Lahana (Maile Kapua'ala), her girlfriend Marcella Bundok (Kamalani Gapol), and Elan Lanisburgh (Kirk A. Lapilio Jr.) and his friends (Max Holtz, Jaime Bradner) in a series of chapters following these demigods from their therapy group to uncovering an evil plot to wipe demigods out of Honolulu by a super secret group fueled by money and a North Shore guy's magic.
The ensemble is extremely tight and constantly works together as a team. With constant stage fighting, koken work, and even multiple lifts, space can be an issue at Kumu Kahua's black box styled theatre, yet they make it work and are able to deliver an action packed experience that is clear and easy to follow. Congrats to Choreographer Harmony Turner, Assistant Director Reb Beau Allen, and Wong for such great work with these very capable actors. Speaking of the actors, they embraced the world so much that it wasn't too campy or too hokey- it simply worked. Each actor that transforms did so with great physical work, not having to rely on a costume (but sometimes needing a koken or two to demonstrate size and scale!). They only had Lighting Designer Cora Yamagata's consistent lighting convention- a flashing of lights being the only outward signal that something supernatural was changing or happening to the actors- and themselves, and that's all they needed. Then, there was the koken with the darts (darts and guns looking good, John M. Cumming III), and the actors that didn't transform were utterly fun to watch themselves-- I could go on and on.
On the other side, this production is aggressively non-PC. From situations to slurs to possibly off color jokes to routine swearing, it's possible that the script may offend someone. A great deal of the audience I saw it with were white, and the production sells a strong anti-haole message at times. Helela does address it in her note in the program, takes responsibility, and apologizes for any hurt and tumult the problematic behavior and language may cause. She wrote the play to highlight her passion for two things: inter-sectional feminism, and "weird, dark, nerdy shit." I personally did not feel attacked, but I also recognize the complicated privilege I have which includes being a local in Honolulu. This production may shock and offend you, be warned. Note: It's hard to say what may offend, because I feel this show hits it all, but off the top of my head it does have strong anti-haole messages, anti-LGBT messages, and religious sacrilege, among others. Walk into this production with a thick skin, whoever you might be.
That being said- what fun this production was! If you, like the playwright and the company, enjoy horror/fantasy/sci-fi, then this is right up your alley. Times that may have seemed problematic pass by quickly because of the brisk pace of the play, and by the time you know it you're on to the next chapter in the story. An Aloha Tower reference, a KHNL news team, and a thrilling climax later and the play is done, and you end up wanting more. Like a summer blockbuster you see again and and again, this production would benefit from repeat viewings. Some of the dialogue and story beats gets rushed through- I imagine I'd glean a lot from a second viewing. First, second, or whatever viewing, Demigods Anonymous runs through April 22 at Kumu Kahua Theatre. Call 536-4222 for tickets.