Review: ‘It’s All Relative’

May. 30, 2011 | 1 Comment

REVIEW BY JOHN BERGER / jberger@staradvertiser.com

Photos courtesy of Kumu Kahua Theatre

Edward Sakamoto is a playwright, not a marriage counselor, but his new play, “It’s All Relative,” could easily save a few relationships. On the surface it’s about the tangled relationships between members of a local Japanese-American family but the broader themes transcends ethnicity. It is a thought-provoking piece of contemporary island theater.

Shiro Miyamoto, a retired auto mechanic, is enjoying life, playing golf and going out drinking with his buddies. His wife, Kimi, is doing what she’s done for 50 years — doing his laundry, cooking his meals, and bringing him beer when he yells for a cold one.

When the couple’s children — their unmarried daughter Flo, son Dean and daughter-in-law Elaine — let it slip that they’re planning a party to celebrate their 50th anniversary, Shiro thinks it’s a great idea; the bigger the better, as long as they’re paying for it and he isn’t.

Kimi tells the kids to save their money. She’s done with serving her self-styled “samurai” husband.

She wants a divorce.

All is not well in the Miyamoto ohana, and the stress fractures extend through the generations. Dean is a frustrated high school English Lit teacher — frustrated by his students’ lack of interest in Keats and Shakespeare, and his sense of missed opportunities. Elaine tries, but she can’t seem to boost his low self-image.

The couple’s three daughters also have identity issues. Rosie responds to her father’s insistence on Standard English by speaking only heavy local pidgin. Bella is a flighty and improbably self-centered airhead.

Viola was so devastated by her father’s inadvertent reference to her as an “ugly duck” that she fled to the mainland. When she returns to renew her ties to the family the others don’t recognize her.

The kids and grand-children begin speculating which of the family’s elderly male friends Kimi may hook up with — or will she find a younger man? Shiro can’t believe she’s serious about leaving, and doesn’t understand why even after his best friend tries to help him figure it out.

Hawaii stage veterans Dann Seki (Shiro) and Allen Y. Okubo (Ike Ikeda) give the show a rock-solid foundation as the “samurai” and his perceptive best friend. Watching Seki play a bold and outspoken character while Okubo provides an understated counter-point is always enjoyable. Their work here is no exception.

Valerie Falle (Kimi), another Kumu Kahua veteran, speaks for uncounted thousands of wives, and certainly some husbands too, with her portrayal of a traditional Nisei wife who decides that it is never too late in life to get out of a bad relationship.

Diana Wan (Viola) catches the eye and touches the heart as the vulnerable “ugly duck” who returns with hopes for acceptance, When Viola first appears it takes to moment to determine if she is physically with the others, a ghost, or merely a figment of their imaginations.

State Rep. Marcus R. Oshiro (Dean) shows his acting range in the role of the hang-dog mope-about son. Oshiro was a fine villain and terrified victim in Kumu Kahua’s 2003 production of “Obake.” He fits nicely into a much more mundane role here.

Jessica Yuki Leolana Ka’uhane (Rosie) is charming as the sweet but blunt pidgin-speaker, and Lacey Perrine Chu (Bella) provides much of show’s comic moments as the insufferably self-absorbed prima donna.

Caucasians and other outsider characters are often written and directed as two-dimensional buffoons in Kumu Kahua productions. Sakamoto, director James A. Nakamoto and cast member Eric Manke (Homer) make the character of Bella’s trophy fiancé much more realistic. Homer is comical at times, but also surprisingly level-headed. Manke does an effective job in gradually showing us that there is more to Homer than his unusual hairdo.

Jodie A. Yamada (Elaine) and Nani Morita (Flo) complete the cast with satisfying performances as the loyal wife and edgy spinster.

“It’s All Relative” is such solid well-written work that Sakamoto deserves a Po’okela Award for “Best New Script” from the Hawaii State Theatre Council. Unfortunately, Kumu Kahua chooses not to participate in the Po’okela Award program and Sakamoto will be denied that well-deserved honor for his work.

Sakamoto has written sequels to several of his popular plays. Hopefully he will write a sequel to this one.

“It’s All Relative”

Presented by Kumu Kahua Theatre

Where: Kumu Kahua Theatre, 46 Merchant St

When: 8 p.m. Thursdays-Saturdays, and 2 p.m. Sundays, through June 26

Cost: $20 general admission (various discounts available)

Info: 536-4441 or www.kumukahua.org

  • Cory

    I saw the show it was great!  It’s way funnier than the review, which is kinda mellow.