One Sweet Start to Da Season
Kumu Kahua Theatre prides itself on producing theatre that was made in and done for Hawaii, mounting plays from all over Hawaii’s cultural spectrum. Laugh out loud comedies, cultural heritage pieces, and everything in between can be found at Kumu Kahua. For their first entry into the ’18-’19 theatrical season comes Hannah Il-Epstein’s gripping drama, Pakalolo Sweet.
Pakalolo Sweet follows Junior Boy (Randall Galius Jr.), who is part of a weed growing operation. Joined by his hapai wife Nani (Po’ai Lincoln), they enjoy a night outside their Waialua home on the lanai. After singing some classic Hawaiian radio hits with karaoke, they are joined by Junior Boy’s grandfather, Papa (William Ha’o) and family friend Kahe (Theoren Nansen). The play doesn’t focus on drugs, rather it turns its lens on this family who happens to be involved in the pakalolo business. A very character driven piece, the audience is able to examine the relationships in front of them from different angles, and it’s these different angles that give drama and meat to the production. After most of the night has gone, Junior Boy’s father, Pop (Eddy Gudoy) comes in and upends the evening because of a mistake that Junior Boy has made.
One of the things Il-Epstein wished to address in this play was the state of mental health, and how it is something we don’t talk about enough and even sometimes perceive as a weakness, especially around men. Not shying away from the disastrous consequences that one can end up finding themselves in, Il-Epstein tells a well-written cautionary tale that asks the audience to talk about these issues with others by delivering a comforting yet hard-hitting narrative. Wrapped in this idea instilled by his father to be masculine and take over the operation, Junior Boy is fraught with what appear to be symptoms of bi-polar and depression. He had stopped taking his meds, and seems to be trying to cope. Galius plays a very nuanced and grounded Junior Boy, slowly unraveling throughout the play as various things come crashing to the ground around him and he is driven deeper and deeper inwards. There was no fluff to his performance, it felt very realistic and made all the consequences and results of his actions towards him hit that much harder.
The entire acting ensemble takes their cues off of Galius and together they all feel like very real people. The characters Il-Epstein writes are inspired by people she knows and people she sees in Hawaii, and the cast did a great job of making you feel like “Oh, I know this person” with their realistic portrayals. Lincoln’s Nani is complex and independent, and has dreams of a future for her unborn child. Ha’o’s Papa is always caring and tenderly sweet, although at times haunted by his past and sometimes feeling his grasp on his mentality slip because of his age. Nansen’s Kahe is unapologetically fun and at ease with who he is, taking pride in smoking out tourists who hire him for tours and calling out Nani and Junior Boy when it calls for it. Gudoy’s Pops is terrifying, reminiscent of that parent we may have grown up with that you are always trying to appease because there is hell to pay when you inch a toe out of line. Alongside director Wil Kahele’s direction, it felt less like a “play” with “actors” and more like a slice of life, with watching these people actually live their lives. The realism does not make it boring, though- on the contrary, it makes it so you can’t stop watching. The genuine tone of ohana that radiates from the production was a beautiful phenomenon to witness and feel, and is worth the ticket price alone.
More on the Design/Production team- Justin Fragiao’s set design is wonderful- he captured the essence of hanging out on the lanai to a tee. Denny Hironaga’s Media Design is on display as the karaoke songs that are actually show on TV, and they work very well (even nailing the weird times the remote decides not to listen to you!). T. Allen Masumura’s props worked with Fragiao’s set well- working together, there was a clear “lived in” feel that is often hard to capture and emulate.
This was written as a prequel to the highly acclaimed Not One Batu, also written by Il-Epstein. If you know the production, you will find gifts and references from that show that connect the productions. If you, like me, haven’t seen it, fret not- Pakalolo Sweet is just as nourishing and rattling on it’s own.
Pakalolo Sweet is running at Kumu Kahua Theatre through September 23. For tickets, visit http://www.kumukahua.org/ for more info.