Awakening History

A woman clothed in a drab dress, shawl and bonnet walks onto the TAG stage and with a bit of town gossip, invites the audience to join her at Thaddeus Stevens’ house, where the proverbial manure is about to … well, you get it. It’s 1851 and Rebecca Lea McCarthy, as a tenacious Quaker woman with a delightful stirring of moral rebellion, introduces us to Resistance!(through Aug. 3,, a story based on actual events, of former slave William Parker (the always full throttle Quantae Love, who particularly impressed in King Hedley II on the same stage last year).


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Nicole Kiyan as Penny, Bella Benzaken as Edna, Shayna Yasunaga as Tracy, Jaysen Holmberg as Link, Natalie Borsky as Amber and Andria Kirk as Velma Von Tussle in 'Hairspray' PHOTO COURTESY OF OHANA ARTS

Parker has resisted slave traders who tried to illegally nab him, and now he is thrown into a belly of social and judicial strife that will turn the tables on an unjust system and help to forever change history. Eli Foster plays the club-footed Stevens with a fierce passion that has us rooting for him to do good, even as he waivers between sticking to his theoretical anti-slavery battle versus rising to the one that has burst live, right through his door. The first act has a lot of raised voices and gun toting all around. A more compelling second act delivers nuanced scenes, with more even pacing. The characters get a bit more fleshed out, eliciting a stronger connection with them. There’s a particularly powerful moment when Stevens confronts the Marshall (S. Rick Crump, last seen at TAG in Hollywood Arms).

Also tackling prejudice and racism is Ohana Arts’ production of Hairspray (July 24-26, at Mamiya Theatre. Fifty students ages 8-18 from across the island are singing, dancing and learning about history with the show.

“They’re tackling mature issues,” says New York director Jill Bolstridge, who is in Hawaii as an acting technique teacher for the Ohana Arts summer program, and acting coach for Hairspray. “We’re talking not just about a girl who wants to dance on a TV show, but about the civil rights movement, about segregation. The kids have been bringing in pictures about the Civil Rights Act, protests, black people being hosed down in the streets or attacked by dogs. Certainly racism exists today, but that blatant, open hatred is a concept that is foreign to our kids.”

Bolstridge says Hairspray‘s complex music, choreography and acting make it Ohana Arts’ most challenging production yet. But that doesn’t appear to be a problem:

“The caliber of kids in performing arts programs, where it’s something they really want to do and it’s not just integrated into a school, is always higher. They’re really dedicated,” says Bolstridge.

At rehearsal, the students performing and those watching are brimming with enthusiasm. Musical theater is vividly lighting a spark in young minds at Ohana Arts.

The author with daughter Sridevi at a classical Indian Odissi dance performance, one of her theatrical forays, around the time she joined 'MidWeek.'

The author with daughter Sridevi at a classical Indian Odissi dance performance, one of her theatrical forays, around the time she joined ‘MidWeek.’


Happy Belated Birthday,’MidWeek’

Last Friday marked three decades of MidWeek delivering its special brand of uplifting community news to people’s doors across the state. I joined the MidWeek team in 2006. I’d like to say I arrived fresh from writing for Ka Leo at UH while earning my B.A. in communications and then M.A. in English. But as often happens, I bounced around a bit in between, working as a substitute teacher at Iolani School, a dentist office receptionist, a wedding office manager. One day, that lightning-bolt aha moment struck — “I need to write for the newspaper!” — and the very next day, I was typing event listings into MidWeek‘s calendar section and penning stories for regional editor Carol Chang, the very first jobs for any new member of the team.

I’d get especially excited when Carol assigned me theater stories and when editor Don Chapman handed me the Hot Ticket movie page. You see, I did all my “fun classes” at UH in the theater department, studying TV acting, Shakespeare and stage acting, and appearing in plays at UH and KCC, and doing some community theater, which earned me a coveted Pookela nomination. When Steve Murray, who edited Military Star at the time, noticed my enthusiasm for theater, he gave me free range to cover productions from TAG back in its Yellow Brick Studio days to Diamond Head Theatre, Manoa Valley Theatre and the now extinct Army Community Theatre. With no budget for these free-lance columns, I wrote them simply for the love of theater.

Forward to January 2012, when Don calls me into his office and asks how I feel about having my byline on an entertainment column. My pen had struck gold. My first column featured artwork by power duo Takeo Kobayashi and Eric Chandler, who recently left our lovely shores for Washington state. Since that first Art & Stage column, I’ve written about a bazillion art exhibits, theater productions, film festivals and local authors. I’ve covered offbeat subjects from glass blowing, calligraphy, lacquerware and dog grooming, to sand sculptures, burlesque, egg painting, narcissus flower carving, balloon twisting and Hawaiian nose flutes. I’ve also featured world-renowned personalities, like photographer Clark Little and actor Daniel Dae Kim. I even gave an inside scoop on a couple of plays I appeared in this past year.

People often say, wow, lucky you — what a job. You can say that again! Thank you Ron Nagasawa and Don, and Happy Birthday MidWeek.