Ghosts Of Hawaii’s Past

It’s nearing sunset as I make my way to the sprawling graveyard on Nuuanu Avenue, where I join a group of people casually gathered on a covered patio at its center. We relish the tranquility, greeting each other softly as we sip drinks, sample from a spread of sandwiches and gaze out expectantly at the waning day.

We’re here at this enchanting twilight hour to visit historic personas from Hawaii’s past, thanks to Hawaiian Mission Houses’ Tales from the Sea, a reprise of last year’s haunting installment of its annual Cemetery Pupu Theatre program. Guests are organized into five separate groups, each with a lantern-holding guide. Each group will spend the next hour or so visiting five distinguished folks from old Hawaii, who alive and in person give a sense of the milieu where the Honolulu waterfront and shipping trade were at the forefront in the late 1700s to 1800s.


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Therese Olival as Lydia Panioikawai Hunt French

There’s a chickenskin moment when you arrive at your first apparition and realize the person speaking is standing in front of the actual grave bearing that person’s name. Careful research by the Mission Houses’ Mike Smola on the history and times of the characters buried here, playwriting by Zachary Thomas Woods, direction by Will Ha’o and costumes by Peggy Krock establish a full-bodied sense of reality to the autobiographical selections.

The 10 minutes or so at each grave are spellbinding – for that exhilarating moment, all of the modern world washes away, opening a window into a fascinating past that shaped the Honolulu we have today. Pupu Theatre features Dezmond Gilla as Rev. Samuel Chenery Damon, Kevin Keaveney as Capt. Isaac Hart, Cecilia Fordham as Mary Bishop Dowsett, Jason K. Ellinwood as Capt. John Meek and Therese Olival as Lydia Panioikawai Hunt French.

After these anachronistic voices have filtered into our world and had their say, we approach the nearby auditorium, entranced, our sense of curiosity heightened and enriched. Together we’ve been transported. Once seated, experts from Mission Houses offer some concluding words and respond to any questions.

Like a great book, when you find yourself craving more, fret not because the series presents an all-new episode, For the Sake of the Public Health, June 20, 21, 27 and 28 about medicine in 19th century Hawaii. Featured will be Hawaii’s first licensed female medical doctor, a leprosy physician, a tuberculosis doctor and founder of Leahi Hospital, Hawaii’s first royal dentist, and a recollection of the smallpox epidemic of 1853 that killed nearly 6,000 people.

the TICKET stub

When: April 25 & 26, doors open 5 p.m., performance begins at 6 p.m
Where: Oahu Cemetery (2162 Nuuanu Ave.)
Cost: $45 (includes pupu and two drinks)
More Info: 447-3926,

Contemplation on Glass

Glass in all its crystalline mystery is at the center of Mid-Pacific Institute’s April 25-May 4 theatrical show, Glass ($5-$10, 973-5066). The school’s drama teacher John Wat, along with 29 of his students, has explored and compiled all things related to the alternately molten and brittle substance, while primarily focusing on their muse, composer Philip Glass.

“It’s kind of postmodern, where you stick things together and it kind of works,” says Wat, who with his students has combined dance, poetry, scenes and monologues on the scientific properties of glass, on stained glass, blown glass, volcanic glass and just about anything else that fits the categorical label.

“As we wrote, we started writing a love story with a central character named Clara, who is a performing artist,” says Wat. “Her creative process has stagnated. She starts to explore Philip Glass and all kinds of other things about glass. It’s about her trying to figure out what the creative process is all about.

“It will be interesting,” he adds. “I think the first three scenes, people will go, ‘What is this?’ but if they have any familiarity with Philip Glass, they might find it exciting.”

Beethoven, Mozart, Einstein and Mark Twain all make appearances, as do iPads. In July, the troupe will perform its montage at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival in Scotland.