Rolling to the Boogie
The second play about Filipinos this ‘18-’19 theatre season is here (the first being HTY’s Filipino Folktales and Fables), produced by KOA, Kailua Onstage Arts. Hawaii is a cultural melting pot, and it’s very nice to see we are in a diversity upswing as many theatres are electing to produce plays about various cultures, lineages, and times that are not often focused on. Enter R. Zamora Linmark’s Rolling the R’s: a play based upon his novel of the same name published in 1997. Linmark’s writing is incredibly layered, waving a disco-lit tapestry of adolescence, sexuality, racism, education, and immigration.
Filipinos were one of the many immigrant peoples that answered the call for plantation work in Hawaii, and have been a part of the islands ever since. Linmark speaks to this in his play, where the lens of the stage is always shifting. The main characters of his play have arcs unto themselves, but there are also many of stories of other individuals that get to be told. This is where director Reiko Ho takes his beautiful, non-linear, and fluid words and brings them to life, crafting and blocking her actors with precision and grace. This production is playing at The ARTS at Mark’s Garage, which could be a difficult space to work with. The performing space is set up to be in a thrust (audience on three-sides) or a in-the-round (audience on four sides), calling for careful thought either way. Ho, in a thrust setting, had her actors play to many different angles and diagonals, even in the same scene. Paired with her only set dressing of about 5-7(?) colorful stage blocks, and musical transitions that were tightly choreographed, you get a masterclass led by Ho in blocking and stage pictures. This unconventional style in staging is perfect for Linmark’s play, and audiences should be excited to know his next two productions will be directed by Ho as well.
The scenic design was minimal, but it worked brilliantly. That being said, this is not a low-tech production. Kahana Ho does wonders with her lighting design (remarkable considering the small space), embracing the spirit of the 70’s and heightening the drama the characters bring onstage. Barett Hoover’s sound design is crisp, clear, and gets everyone jiving in their seats. The wigs by Friston Ho’okano and the costume design by Carlynn Wolfe are simply beautiful, with dynamic looks that serve the story well. Plus, the speed of some of these transitions is quick, and the cast makes quick work getting in and out of different characters. Props to Ho’okano and Wolfe for designing such easy to take off/put on costumes!
Finally, the cast. The cast of ten is a tour-de-force, taking Linmark’s lines and brings them them to life with a fierce finesse and an honest vulnerability. The play follows three teens- Edgar (Jonathan Reyn), Vicente (Sean-Joseph Choo), and Katrina (Maile Kapuaala). Their relationships and relationships to each other are the heart of the play, driving the action forward. Malia Lagaso, Maila Rondero Kaneaiakala, Kamalani Gapol, Max Kekai’oli Malmud, Lisa Ann Katagiri Bright, Stu Hirayama, and Will Ha’o play characters (sometimes double and triple casted) that fill out the small pocket of the universe the three adolescents occupy in Honolulu, either directly or indirectly tied to the three. With Linmark’s writing, it seemed everyone had a chance to have a moment to shine, not wasting a single word or moment. As I mentioned before, the vulnerability and emotional depth everyone possessed had me entranced. There is energy, comedy, and even singing in this production, and they do it with aplomb. However, it should be known that every meaty and heartfelt scene that Linmark gave the actors was met with tender technique, giving birth to three-dimensional performances all around.
If you can, I encourage you to make it out to Chinatown to watch Rolling the R’s at The ARTS at Mark’s Garage. The production runs through January 20, and tickets can be purchased here. There will be no show on Friday January 4, so they are having a production on Thursday, January 3- an industry night with a cheaper ticket price. Also, note that there will be no performances during the week of January 7, as The Oahu Fringe Festival will be performing that week. Performances will continue on Friday, January 18.