Under the Surface
When Reb Beau Allen was handed the script for famed pidgin author Lee Tonouchi’s Echoes of Dat Red Guitar, it was by default. Kumu Kahua was getting its season in order and, says Allen, “They asked me to read it through because a lot of other people didn’t want to direct it because of certain challenges with it — Lee’s script has a lot of transitions. There’s three timelines, and after every scene it goes to a different timeline, a different location.”
Nevertheless, Allen perused the play and was instantly drawn in:
“I read it and I loved it. I saw the heart of the story and I said, OK, I can do this.”
Director and author met and shared some intensive joining of minds. Then Allen took up the reins of the dark comedy, a term which gives him pause.
“There’s a lot of very funny moments,” he says. “But the seriousness of it — we treat it with absolutely no kid gloves. There’s a point where it’s very brutal, very shocking.”
Both Tonouchi and Allen stop short of referring to the Byran Uyesugi Xerox shootings that happened here in Honolulu, back in ’99, but Allen does admit to seeing echoes in the script. Lead character, Alvin Chan, far from his kid-friendly Honolulu Theatre for Youth personas, is Guy, an Asian man struggling with his career and having a tough time living up to his family’s expectations. He even has indicators of mental illness.
“He does hear voices,” says Allen. “He has some coaxing going on in the brain and he reaches his limit, where certain incidents trigger everything for him.”
Guy’s “personal aumakua,” as Tonouchi calls it, is Kikaida, and anyone who grew up in the ’70s knows Kikaida was all the rage in Hawaii.
“To understand — when Kikaida came to Hawaii, it was the biggest thing,” says Allen. “I saw a picture when the actor came to sign autographs at Ala Moana and there was standing room only in the entire mall, and there were people outside the mall. It was one of the biggest things ever to hit the Island.
“Guy doesn’t really know what to do in life, so he emulates himself after things. He sees what his parents do and does those things. To manage all of his emotions, he tries to emulate things Kikaida would do. Kikaida wouldn’t cry. Kikaida wouldn’t care if he didn’t have friends. He tries to use Kikaida for strength.”
Guy tries to do the right thing, but he doesn’t know what the right thing is. Others seem to have it so easy in comparison, and he’s been told if he just gets a state job he’ll be set, but nothing seems to pan out in his favor.
Peopling the script are a bully, nerdy techies, a Christian sex bomb and haole boss, but these characters are far from stereotypical, says Tonouchi by email:
“I try for add layers to da characters,” he notes. “For examples, lotta plays might jus get one Haole boss and das all he is, but for mines, da Haole boss stay aware he’s Haole and he addresses da fack dat he feels ostracized from da rest of da office due to his perceived Haoleness. So even though he not one of da main characters, he get some complexity. He even get one hidden agenda too.”
After days of tech rehearsal (long hours when the actors move through their roles with stop-and-go as the lighting and sound are set), Allen sat down and watched the show through.
“I was stunned,” he says. “Visually, it’s beautiful. Storywise, these guys are just telling the story to the fullest. I left a very happy director. It’s heartbreaking, it’s funny. It’s got everything!”
The Ticket Stub
When: Thursdays- Sundays, through June 28
Where: Kumu Kahua Theatre
Cost: $5-$20 More
Info: 536-4441, kumukahua.org