Memory Burned Bright
Steeped in the evergreen and sometimes misty Windward side, Paliku Theatre offers their next production of the season as part of their Theatre 260 class curriculum, Burning/Memory, which are three plays inspired by the Japanese theatre style of Noh. The preshow has pictures reminding the audience what Noh traditionally consists of, which includes lavish costumes, stages both inside and out, and masks of all shapes and sizes. It is a categorically rigid and strict theatre style, with very slow movements and chants that have a limited range. However, what director Taurie Kinoshita emulates from Noh is its subject matter. Mugen Noh traditionally features supernatural elements, including ghosts and gods. Mugen Noh plays also focus on flashbacks and memories of the deceased to invoke emotions, something all three plays share a common thread with. Finally, Noh is performed with a chorus, and often the text is poetic and pulled from traditional Japanese pieces of literature. Two of the pieces have a chorus built in, and Kinoshita’s adaptation of Matsukaze called Memory of a Dream features poetry from Pablo Neruda, T.S. Eliot, E.e. Cummings, Paul Eluard, and Dylan Thomas. It serves to both show how some traditional Noh plays are built as well as to allow it be more accessible to both actors and audience. Thus, do not look for Japanese appropriate costumes or masks; the spirit of Noh breathes in this production as the style inspires and informs all three plays contained within.
Cane Fields Burning by Kemuel DeMoville premiered at Kumu Kahua Theatre in 2011. A raw, unsettling story that speaks to the hereditary nature of abuse and violence, it examines the actions of a family of men. The grandson (Michah Souza) is helping his father (Raymond Zachary Thompson) move things out of his grandfather’s (Stuart Featheran Jr.) home. Packing up the boxes, he notices a picture a woman, who is the spirit (Cassidy Keiko Patmont) of the play, with Manuel A. Moreno and Chivalry Butler serving as her chorus, sometimes repeating her lines and sometimes saying other lines that compliment hers. A neighbor (John R. Barajas Jr.) comes and helps trigger some repressed memories and helps connect the grandson to the past, which shows him that he may have some things in common with his grandfather. Featheran is powerful in this piece as someone who is both tormented by his actions and tormented by his environment around him. When Patmont, Butler, and Mureno speak together, it has an appropriately chilling vibe; Patmont also stands on her own as she goes through the many heart-wrenching emotions that a victim endures. This is Barajas’ first role in the production (coming back for the third show), and exercises strong character work by embodying the age and voice of this older neighbor. Unfortunately, Souza and Thompson’s relationship as father and son could have taken more time to develop, as both actors did not seem to be connected to each other for a great deal of the show; it was also difficult to take Souza seriously at times because his smiling throughout his scenes seems unmotivated. However, he is visceral and strongest when he and Featheran share the stage (and lines).
Memory of a Dream, an adaptation of the Noh play Matsukaze is the next play in the sequence. A priest (Thompson) comes into town and discovers a woman, named Matsukaze (Shantel Au) weeping beside a pine tree. We learn of her plight- the pine tree reminds her of her beloved, Yukihira (Caleb Cordova), and how they loved each other for a long time but unfortunately Yukihira passes away on assignment. She still has his hat and his coat, and they remind him of her. The priest offers to say some prayers, and for a spell it seems Yukihira is able to be rejoined with Matsukaze. The chorus, comprised of Juvy Lucina, Patmont, and Daphnei Hussein accent the lines shared by the priest, Yukihira, and Matsukaze, all utilizing phrases and excerpts of poetry from the aforementioned writers. A tender love story, haunted by the past, Au as Matsukaze fiercely remains loyal and yearns for Cordova’s Yukihira with amazing passion and drive. Their chemistry is well balanced, and their time spent together is a heartwarming highlight.
Remembering the Fall is the play that takes a departure from the script patterns of the first two and resembles a contemporary drama on the surface. Written in memory of James Foley, the play cuts back and forth between the time a team of war correspondents spent in the Middle East and the recounting of that time from a survivor to the widow of one of the correspondents. Miriam (Lucina) is being comforted by Darren (Moreno), as he tells her of the last several months he spent with her husband, Paul (Noah Schuetz). Paul was a part of a team of journalists- JH (Featheran), Storm (Patmont), Yuki (Butler), Isaac (Cordova)- that ultimately got captured by ISIS when attending a hospital in a combat zone. The ISIS Leader (Barajas) and his right hand guard (Jeremy Keuma) treats his prisoners with fickleness and false hopes, wearing them down one by one. The team, while imprisoned, meets another detainee by the name of Mark (Souza), who has been there for over a year. Times seem bleak, but Paul day in and day out is the one that rallies everyone’s strength to keep going as they all hold out to see if their ransoms get paid or not. A new play written by Kinoshita, it takes a while to tonally find it’s feet. The opening moments introducing the team personally seemed a bit too casual, and bits of the dialogue here and there seemed forced. However, the scenes with Lucina and Moreno & Scheutz were a slow burn, tender and heartbreaking. Also, the strength of the correspondent ensemble shines when their cards are down, and they are rooted in survival mode- allowing the fear, tension, and stakes to organically build and crashing down, with the audience feeling every nuanced bit of despair and emotion. Barajas does a 180 from his former role, fully embracing a man on a mission. The small windows of compassion and pity he opens are quickly turned when he becomes coldly rigid and punishing, making for a fascinating antagonist. The theatrical concept of Chekhov’s gun is at play in this production- rifles are being toted around by the ISIS soldiers and the preshow warnings include the firing of a gun. That being said, the way the production uses its shots (I’m trying to avoid spoilers) came out of left field and hits the gut hard, but is done in an elegant and poignant way.
Hope Laidlaw’s lighting design heightens and notions effectively. The costumes by Iris Kim are simple, yet effective, with elements grouping each play together. I also appreciated the choice to have all the people that are spirits (in other words, deceased) be barefoot. They also have white makeup, but I think the barefoot element is a simple yet wildly effective choice to run through all three plays. Kinoshita’s music design fluctuates- most times, the music is very fitting, noticeably in the first and third plays. The music in the second play seemed either too busy or too loud, competing with the actors for clarity and volume. Finally, Anna Foster’s projections are beautiful, and I especially love how they accent Cane Fields Burning- the still and moving shots of the fields were haunting.
As I mentioned, this production serves as a part of the Theatre 260 curriculum, where the class is focused around the production of a play. The students for the most part are earnest and dedicated in their roles, and it shows. I may have had a few critiques, but none were enough to detract from the performance as a whole. Each play has its own poignancy, it’s own spirits telling their tales, it’s own version of sorrow and tragedy. Burning/Memory has two more performances: March 16 at 7:30pm and March 17 at 4:00pm. For online tickets, click here.