In 5th-grade Hawaiian Studies (it was called Hawaiiana back then), we learned that Hawaii was known worldwide as The Melting Pot of the Pacific. I know better now. It's more of a stir-fry in which the ingredients complement each other while retaining their individually distinct flavors. Much more appetizing. And interesting.
One thing about stir-fry, it's a great way to get folks to eat stuff they might not otherwise try. You can diligently pick out all the bell peppers but sooner or later, one slips by and you discover that they actually taste pretty good in the mix. Or not. But if not, at least you find that bell peppers won't kill you, and there are all these other goodies to soothe your palate.
Why am I waxing philosophical over stir-fry? Last Sunday I went to see "Lesser Ahi" at MAPA's Steppingstone Playhouse in the Queen Ka'ahumanu Center. Written and performed by Maui boys Derek Nakagawa and Francis Tau'a under the direction of David Johnston, the two-man, 10-character play is a hilarious look at local life. Wacky, as the program cover says. It's the kind of show that longtime locals like my cousins and my classmates would thoroughly enjoy. Too bad none of them was there.
In terms of our stir-fry, theater is one of the ingredients brought to the table by the haoles. Bell peppers, to most locals. And that goes for both sides of the curtain. Whether on stage or in the audience, I often find I'm the lone non-Caucasian. It didn't bother me when I was in high school, but nowadays it makes feel a bit melancholy. And guilty. Like I should be doing more to encourage my peers to participate.
Talking Stories was formed for exactly that purpose. Founded nearly 10 years ago by Kim Compoc and Kea Hokoana-Gormley, the nonprofit organization seeks to grow local actors, local audiences and local writers. On Oahu, Kumu Kahua Theatre has pursued a similar mission since 1971. While both groups have succeeded in producing wonderful shows centered on local lifestyle and culture, theater remains a predominantly haole domain.
I used to joke that locals didn't take to the theater because of our upbringing: Our parents were always admonishing us, "No act!" But seriously, folks, I do think my parents were bewildered by a child who looked like a shy little Japanese girl, yet acted like a Shirley Temple wannabe. As we approached adolescence, my friends lost interest in playacting - kid stuff, they called it - but I continued to dream of becoming an actress. When we got to high school and I wanted to join the drama club, they called it haole stuff. And my father's bewilderment continued. "I just don't understand why you would want to draw attention to yourself," he'd muse. I didn't understand it either, I just knew I loved being on stage. Acting out, telling stories, making people laugh and cry. Even if it made me a drama geek, a misfit in my local circle.
I was fortunate to be among the hundreds of drama geeks and freaks nurtured by Sue Loudon at Baldwin High School. Even there, my co-stars and crewmates were mostly fair of hair or skin, but Miss Loudon actively encouraged local kids to join. Fortunately for all of us, Francis and Derek were also among her young recruits. In fact, they were prepped for the Baldwin Theatre experience by Maui Youth Theatre, which didn't exist when I was growing up and which became the Maui Academy of Performing Arts (MAPA).
MAPA and Maui OnStage, which grew out of Maui Community Theatre, face the same dilemma: How to get more local folks to the theater and into theater. A lot of thought goes into selecting shows that will attract a broader audience and more diverse casts. The current MAPA production of "Lesser Ahi" is a perfect vehicle for local outreach.
Derek and Francis and David have whipped up an onolicious slice of local life, mo' bettah than Spam musubi. Derek and Francis play twins Andrew and Anden. And if that made you laugh, you are definitely local enough to catch all the other pidgin jokes in the play. You'll also recognize each of the eight other local characters played brilliantly by da Maui braddahs, from Mommy and Daddy to Bernadette and Uncle Chin.
"Lesser Ahi" plays for two more weeks, through May 5; Friday and Saturday nights at 7:30 and at 2 p.m. Sundays. I'm going back for a second serving this weekend and I heartily recommend it to all, but especially to my local friends who still think of theater as haole stuff.
Eh, you guys listening? Go 'head, try da bell peppahs. I mean, da Ahi. Going be good fun, garans ball-barans. I see you dea.
* Kathy Collins is a performance artist, broadcaster and freelance writer whose "Sharing Mana'o" column appears every Wednesday. Her email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.