HULA MOON Vol. XXI: Together in the Dark with Shakespeare; Keiki or Canine?

Together in the Dark with Shakespeare

I had a great time. I am not sure what I saw, but I loved it. I laughed loudly at least once every minute. Life, and entertainment, rarely gets better than that.

If the purpose of theater is to jolt you out of your seat and sensibility, then this production was very successful. I think I learned something. Most of the time, the plot ran faster than I, but that mattered little for, I was swept away with the actors and their giddy, funny performances.

A presentation of the Hawaii Shakespeare Festival and Tony Pisculli, Dromio and Juliet succeeds with brilliant casting and the Bard's humanity. The work of William Shakespeare gets down and dirty with we, the people, and our raw motivations and mad desires; it is always a welcome mirror, good for a laugh or a cry.

Dromio and Juliet is done in the Commedia dell'Arte, the ancient Italian school of funny masks, broad pantomime and elaborately human characters. It is fast, lively and slapstick funny. As theater in the round, the cast was interacting and playing to both sides of the rollicking audience. I was lucky to attend the actor's preview, where all cast members of the four festival plays were in attendance.

Funny is universal, from the ancients to the sitcom, little has changed. The characters of Dromio and Juliet were classic and easily recognizable. This smart cast, some with multiple parts, have taken these humanities and personalities to a perfect pitch. Spot-on and laugh loud. 2015-07-14-1436906609-6083516-art19A.jpg

Every time Victoria Brown-Wilson took the stage, I could look at no one but her. Every twitch of her smile, bat of an eye or quiver of her Olive Oyl voice had me laughing. As royalty, the shy, single sister is a battlefield of propriety and good manners at war with her badly contained lust. Hilarious.

With a nod to Will Ferrell and Monty Python, KC Odell, a male, kicked it as Juliet's good, and useless, nurse. Victoria Domingo wailed and swooned as a Mean Girls Juliet, a konniving Kardashian Kapulet.

Big momma, the queen, has a voice that could clear a dense fog. Stephanie Keiko Kong's performance was sublime. Her comic timing, swift and emotionally laden, creates a very full and sympathetic character that I couldn't wait to see again. With her brassy voice and smart timing, Kong is a classic.

"No way, dude." After the show, I was completely surprised to learn that Kong also played the role of stoner dude Mercutio, a spotless spliff of sense and sensibility. Paul Yau, who will play two roles in the upcoming Othello, gave me the insider scoop. Kong is also a trained stage fighter.

Another clever actress is Diana Wan, who layered her wicked Courtesan, the Prince who prognosticates like Peter Falk and the agile Merchant with great details, much of it physical and all of it memorable.

Double the applause is deserved for the two Dromios played tirelessly by Christina Uyeno. Her feet and hands never stopped moving in true commedia tradition. Without a known language, she devised and said much with an over-flowing gibberish, subtle gestures and theatrical asides. She and our lead Antipholus are the threads that bind the complex play.

Garrick Paikai may be the hardest working actor in Honolulu. He plays both roles of the lead character Antipholus, a role requiring the stamina of a World Cup soccer player and the quick, untiring brain of a physical comedian.

I am an unlikely audience member. Anytime anyone says, "Doest thou," my eyes glaze over. To know a very little about Shakespeare, requires much study. It's a whole thing. One must become a devoted scholar just to sound stupid on the subject. "Sire, thy..." makes my brain stop working. For a man who confesses ignorance, I had a really great time.

Not wanting to misrepresent, I am no philistine or country rube. I have been involved in the production of over one hundred stage shows with a preference and knowledge for the contemporary. I'm just not partial to anything with puffy sleeves. The Hawaii Shakespeare Festival has won me over.

Tony Pisculli, a co-founder of the fourteen-year-old festival, has mashed up the Shakespeare lore of a long missing, two sets of twins, comedy version of Romeo and Juliet. True to the Commedia dell'Arte platform, Pisculli has crafted a skeleton of a script from which the actors improv away. The adapter and director is a brave man, for the greatest challenge is casting his talent. Without a nimble and principled actor, it all falls apart. Pisculli has pegged it beautifully.

At this in-house preview, I noticed a swath of young friends in the first row of the audience across from me. Later I learned they were likely there in support of actor Rhansen Mars, himself just several years out of high school. Mars plays the small part of Paris, which he turns into a starring role. Paris is many things, especially vain, drunk and very cool. Paris literally turned to water and ran down the stairs like a river. From a pool on the stage, he reconstituted back into the coolest cat in Verona. I thought I was watching a Looney Tune cartoon. Mars is a talent to take note of. He has a sense of timing far beyond his years. He can move. He knows how to work and win audiences like a busker. His Paris is a man to survive our End of Times.

If I had someone else's credit card, I would lock Rhansen Mars, Stephanie Keiko Kong and a smart local playwright in a posh, well-stocked hotel room. At the end of the weekend, I think a very interesting set of characters in a mad situation would be dancing across the page.

Ha. Ha. A live performance is unlike anything on YouTube. A play is interactive. The actors are responding to the audience. A warm and human energy is created when we, all strangers, sit in a dark room and experience an event together. Sublime.

The 14th Annual Hawaii Shakespeare Festival offers four plays and 24 performances. The patron of the organization is none other than the great actress Dame Judi Dench.

We all drive by Marks Garage and smile with fond recognition. It is so easy to casually forget the volume of quality and diverse work that is produced within those walls. Marks Garage and the Hawaii Shakespeare Festival deserve our attention. It's not all puffy sleeves.

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Keiki Or Canine?

In a recent, informal study of baby strollers, prams, carriages and hand-powered children's transportation devices on the streets of Honolulu, it was discovered that 76% of the occupants were canine, usually small, precious lap dogs.

Aloha says Hello and Goodbye.

Gordy Grundy is an O'ahu based artist, arts writer and libertine. His visual and literary works can be found at www.GordyGrundy.com.

A collection of HULA MOONs can be found here on the Huffington Post or on Facebook.

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