‘Aloha Las Vegas’ – HILARIOUS!
The ninth island is calling, luring with a chance for change. Can deep rooted tradition and the strong bonds ofʻohana be preserved amidst the temptations of sin city? Resistance to change is both cultural and human while the challenge of simultaneously letting go and embracing the past is present in every stage of life. Kumu Kahua Theatre is once again remounting Edward Sakamoto’s Aloha Las Vegas which first premiered in 1992. It subsequently was remounted at the Japan America Theatre in Los Angeles in 1994 and Pan Asian Rep in New York in 1998. Judging by the number of different cast photos over the years, this will be at least Kumu Kahua’s third remount of this show. This production pays tribute to playwright, Edward Sakamoto who passed away in 2015. The reason Aloha Las Vegas has become an “audience favorite” can be described in one word: HILARIOUS! This show is an uproarious roller coaster ride with fun and emotional ups and downs.
The play centers around Wally (Dann Seki), a retired widower struggling to move forward in his life while keeping his traditional values intact and embracing his wife’s memory. His long-term friend, Harry (Allan Okubo), entices him to move to Las Vegas. Wally’s long-time housekeeper and friend, Gracie (Nara Cardenas) sees Wally’s stress and strain from remaining engulfed in an environment he can no longer share with his wife, Kay. Gracie tries to assist in easing his children, June (Janice Morimoto) and Butch (Eric Mita) into the possibility of their father relocating. She introduces her friend, Alvin (Jim Aina) to June and consoles Butch’s wife Deedee (Monica Coldwell). Hilarity ensues through these quirky characters wrangling with their ties to Hawai‘i, each other and the memory of Kay.
Kumu Kahua Artistic Director Harry Wong returns as director of Aloha Las Vegas. Comedic timing is key to this piece and the pacing is tricky. Wong guides this cast with pacing that I believe exceeded what is presented in the script. There are times when the pacing slows down which is a cultural and nostalgic aspect that could be lost in the pursuit of laughs which instead, Wong captures realistically. Many of the actors in this production are reprising their roles from previous remounts of the show. Both Seki and Okubo have performed in more than one of Edward Sakamoto’s 19 plays. It is truly a treat to watch these two actors interact, they comfortably embody these characters. Though Wally is the central character, Gracie, from the sidelines, drives much of the action of the show. Cardenas nails taking focus when she is the only character on stage while sharing that focus beautifully throughout with the other characters. The stand out performances of Morimoto and Aina leave the audience in stitches. Their mastery of physical comedy is a sight to see. Their performances could be seen as over the top, but I believe this script allows for it. They both refrained from upstaging which is necessary to remain realistic. Many of these characters provide contrast to each other which helps drive the comedy.
The set by BullDog was simple with some really nice details that helped the flow of the play. I loved the lit skyline outline within the set–it was an awesome touch. The costumes [compiled by the cast under Wong’s direction] were also nicely done with specific attention to details of fashion of the early 90’s, and some specific really funny pieces that fit the characters.
I saw a preview (dress rehearsal) of the show. I had never seen Aloha Las Vegas before nor any play by Edward Sakamoto and I thoroughly enjoyed this piece. I was busting up a good deal of the time. The play is a slice of life, family and struggles in Hawai‘i that I believe anyone would enjoy. Who doesn’t like to laugh?
Aloha Las Vegas runs through July 31st at Kumu Kahua Theatre, 46 Merchant St.
Laura Clark Greaver is a reviewer for Hitting the Stage. She is an actor, director, business owner and mom who is currently an MFA directing student at UH Manoa.