A Gallinaceous Selection

To save you the hassle of scrolling through your dictionary app, “gallinaceous” refers to poultry. While Honolulu Theatre for Youth charms kids with a story about a lovable Nene Goose, there’s nothing fowl about the latest from Kumu Kahua, outside of the title: Moa a Moi (Chicken Into King).


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Maile Holck as Martha. Photo courtesy of Honolulu Theatre for Youth

Hearing the bubbly, chirping melody of children’s laughter pealing through Tenney Theatre, it’s no wonder ode and song have been dedicated to that pleasurable sound. In Auntie Martha and the Nene (Goose), grumpy Martha (Maile Holck) stomps around her beach shack, giving the friendly postman a cold shoulder, shooing away any living creature in the vicinity and generally shutting out the world. Holck gives keiki plenty to titter about. There’s the obvious gags that include some toilet paper humor and a pair of granny undies hanging on the clothesline, but without any dialogue – she does soliloquize, though that’s too pretty a word for her fist-at-the-world grumbling – Holck keeps the room full of elementary students riveted, mostly with pure body language.

Martha goes about her lonely ways until a curious, extroverted nene (puppeteered by Junior Tesoro) comes along, coaxing Martha out of her shell, teaching her to care about someone other than herself. Originally a tale from the Scottish island of Islay, Annie Wood Cusick, also from Islay, adapted and directed the story for Hawaii, turning a white goose, seaside cottage and fishing boat races into a nene, a Hawaiian hut and canoe races. The result is a very local production that had its packed keiki audience booing, cheering and literally dancing in their seats. (Trivia note: Cusick is married to actor Henry Ian Cusick, best known as Desmond in Lost.)

Meanwhile, travel back 400 to 500 years and see a fortunate and astute commoner transform into one of Hawaii’s legendary alii nui in Moa a Moi. This re-creation of stories about Hawaii Island king Umi-a-Liloa was penned by celebrated artist Jean Charlot, who spent time painting and teaching on Oahu. Island culture inspired both his artwork and the play script currently being brought to life by director Daniel A. Kelin. Kelin, who also directs drama education at HTY, took some time out to give A&S insight into Moa a Moi:

Is Chicken Into King a family/children’s show?

It is not written specifically for a child audience, though families might enjoy the play if they are interested in stories about Hawaii and Hawaii’s history. The play celebrates theatre as a means for celebrating culture and history in an artistically engaging manner. It points up some of the uniqueness of Hawaii.

How much do Jean Charlot’s artistic sensibilities feature in the production?

His sensibility has influenced the atmosphere of the play, but we do not directly use his artwork in the play. The production is a theatrically imaginative tribute to Hawaii Island’s King Umi in a way that Jean Charlot paid tribute through his visual art.

How big is the cast?

We have 10 actors playing multiple roles. There are 29 speaking roles, but about 50 different characters who appear throughout the play.

What’s the gist of the story? The play (itself) offers highlights of King Umi’s life, from childhood through his many conquests in becoming a well-respected king. The production takes that idea one step further and presents a group of people who tell the story of Umi as a tribute, as if he had just recently passed away and they are preparing to bury his bones.

It is presented as a tribute to a recently deceased king, performed by what appears to be a small group of his close associates and friends. It paints a loving picture of the king’s life, without trying to realistically present history. The actors remain on stage throughout the play and literally change from character to character right in front of the audience, almost as if the audience has entered a remote cave in the mountains of the Big Island for a private, joyous celebration of life and one great man.

the TICKET stub
When: Jan. 23-Feb. 23
Where: Kumu Kahua Theatre
Cost: $5-$20
More Info: 536-4441, kumukahua.org

Also showing: Auntie Martha and the Nene plays at Tenney Theatre Jan. 25 and Feb. 1, cost is $10-$20. More info: 839-9885, htyweb.org.