How Real the Unreal Can Be
The first playwrights who dabbled in Realism in the mid-19th century found themselves in the eye of a malevolent storm of criticism.
These idealistic, often self-declared Realists sought to help society by exposing uncomfortable truths--religious hypocrisy, extra-marital affairs, sexually transmitted diseases--and a host of other ailments endemic to humanity.
Taking their cue from Comte's Positivism, they called for dialogue which reflected the language of every day people, and characters motivated with a Freudian psychological complexity.
Henrik Ibsen, possibly the greatest Realist in the history of the movement, and an undeniably exceptionally influential writer, had a critic say, "an open drain; a loathsome sore un-bandaged; a dirty act done publicly; a lazar-house with all its doors and windows open . . . absolutely loathsome and fetid . . ." about his play Ghosts. The censors claimed this new language of the theatre was shocking and needed to be banned.
History is full of attempts to silence artists for seeking to create positive social change through an unflinching lens. History is also full of biased naysayers, unable to differentiate personal opinion from great art--thus attacking artists and seeking to drown their voices. It takes immense objectivity to recognize that just because you don't like the song, it doesn't mean the singer is off-key.
It is therefore no surprise that the remarkable first work of gifted young playwright Noa Helela is not everyone's proverbial cup-of-tea. Helela's rapid-fire witty dialogue, distinctly drawn characters and intense dramatic action are both brilliant and thought-provoking.
Demigods Anonymous, playing through April 22nd at Kumu Kahua Theatre, follows a group of young college-age adults, as they battle with their ability to turn into animal form. Their power is both a gift and a curse and satisfying violent action ensues.
Imagining a world of demigods inspired by Hawaiian legend is sheer genius; writing a play which so intricately reflects young minorities' experiences in powerful metaphor is a breath-taking feat.
I related to both the profound parable of the play, and every character. The quick-paced action spoke to me deeply: I have a short attention span and yet was utterly riveted throughout the performance.
Director Harry Wong III's staging of the action is also brilliant: he creatively uses koken and actors as inanimate objects. Cora Yamagata's lighting design effectively creates mood while successfully focusing the action. Several superb music choices also help engender a palpable excitement.
Playing a human, and then an animal--with no costume or makeup change--is an incredible challenge. The actors were compelling and outstanding. Everyone onstage reacted, listened, played each moment with great commitment, and their animal-god transformations were extraordinary.
You will probably never see another show like Demigods Anonymous, its utterly unique. The excellent staging, immensely creative compelling writing, great acting, and superb design are all reasons to see this entertaining and provocative play.
If that's not reason enough, consider that you would be supporting a first time playwright who is giving voice to the too-often voiceless, and in so doing, weaving a categorically extraordinary story, unlike any ever told before.
Written by Brendan Kobayashi