A Salute to These Brave
I appreciate theatre that elevates. Many marginalized people often don’t have the privilege of having works of art, especially theatre, creating for their benefit. Yet, many theatres in Hawaii are doing their best to develop new and original work or are picking selections that honor and elevate the communities around them, giving a voice to those that don’t often have one. Honolulu Theatre for Youth has been great with this initiative, which I believe is extremely beneficial for a Theatre for Young Audiences (TYA) company to be doing. Youth are open to learning with a wider lens on the world, where it’s easier for them to watch things without the leanings or bias that have been accumulating in older audience members. This time, HTY has turned their eye on a group many often look over, and has given them a spark of a voice- military children.
Home of the Brave, directed by Eric Johnson and written by Lee Cataluna, is a fantastic endeavor reaching out to a large section of youth that is vastly underrepresented in today’s media and written works. With Hawaii being the military state it is (we have bases of all of the branches of military represented in the state), chances are we know, have known, or are around military families that move from place to place because of reassignments. The somber yet beautiful thing about this play is that is focuses on the lenses of the children of these families, and begins to ask how it might feel moving so much and not having the luxury to plant roots in the ground. Cataluna cites in her notes how collaborative, crowd-sourced, and community grown this project was for her. The compassion in her lines reflects the spectrum of stories that she must have encountered, and like any good piece of theatre, encourages discussion and the sharing of these stories.
Told in a series of shorter scenes and vignettes, Home of the Brave primarily follows the story of a new military family moving into the neighborhood. The two daughters of the family, played by Christina Uyeno and Claire Fallon, have different opinions about moving in. The younger one loves it! The older one hates it and is struggling to stay in touch with her best friend from another state. Another child in the neighborhood, played by Sean Joseph Choo, comes in and welcomes the family, helping to ease the rough transition for all. Choo’s character has seen many families come and leave, and tries to befriend who he can. Ultimately, being neighborly and coming forward with aloha is what he does best because he understands the pressures and troubles of being new in a new place, even though he has not moved anywhere his entire life. The daughters eventually go to school, where they meet a pair of military brothers played by Jason Lee Hoy and Brandon Karrer. The two also understand what it’s like to be moving all the time, and help to make their time at school as easy as they can make it.
Cut between this narrative are smaller stories and vignettes, where the company is able to focus in on other stories that aren’t able to be told from the narrative going on. For example, we are introduced to countdown candy, where a jar is filled with peanut M&M’s equal to the amount of days their parent is coming back from deployment and the child eats one every night. A story of an engineer in a battleship popping the steam whistle three times is a way of saying “I love you” to his family because the position he works on the ship can’t afford him time to wave goodbye to them on the deck. There is also a poignant scene where two children think their father is coming home, and that they are being celebrated for this joyous occasion. Come to find out, it’s a celebration for a father coming home, it’s just not for theirs. Amidst all these stories, the company tells these stories with heart and in earnest, and embrace key behaviors and costume pieces so that we the audience can follow who they are at the moment.
Brian Gilhooly’s set, props, and lighting design work to fit the needs of the story. The modular set changes and rotates to switch up the settings, the props pertinent to each scene come in and out of cardboard moving boxes (some of which seem load bearing- what does he make them out of?!) and the lighting is always appropriate to the scene work going on. Paul James Prendergast’s music composition and sound design is crisp, clear, and his score taps into elements of patriotic songs and sounds we all know and uses them to great effect, creating a score that captures the many nuances of bravery all of the stories require. I touched on it earlier, but Iris Kim’s costume design is functional and clear. Specific characters have specific looks, and through layering or other key costume props (like a hat for Hoy when he’s portraying a younger character) other stories are able to be told.
The class of kids sitting around me seemed very cynical during the earlier parts of the performance. Yet, by the end of the performance they had honed in and recognized how they were surrounded by people that this play was about. Cataluna, Johnson, and the company have created an important piece of work that reaches out to young audiences of all ages. Home of the Brave is currently running at HTY’s Tenney Theatre. There is one more performance remaining of Home of the Brave- Saturday, February 23. There is a sensory friendly/ASL performance at 11:00am and a regular performance at 4:30pm that day. For tickets, visit www.htyweb.org or call 808-9885, ext. 720.