Review: Chan shows range in ‘Lion Dancer’
BY JOHN BERGER / email@example.com
Old country customs can be embarrassing when your family moves to a place where people do things differently. HTY explores the clash of cultures in Hawaii from a Chinese perspective with playwright Alvin Chan’s not-quite-autobiographical play, “The Lion Dancer.”
‘The Lion Dancer’
Presented by Honolulu Theatre for Youth
» Where: Tenney Theatre, St. Andrew’s Cathedral
Hermen “Junior” Tesoro stars as Anson, a young Chinese-American boy who has a love-hate relationship with the Chinese culture of his foreign-born parents. Anson would rather play baseball than learn kung fu or practice lion dancing; he feels stifled by the high expectations of his widower father.
To make matters worse, Kimo, the big kid who bullies him at school, is also the top student in his father’s kung fu class. Kimo gets to be the “head” when they practice lion dancing and Anson has to be the “butt.”
Anson’s best friend is a tomboy named Lani who defends him from Kimo and wants to study kung fu and lion dancing. Unfortunately for both of them, Anson’s father refuses to have a female student.
The various conflicts build to a winner-take-all lion dance competition for $1000 cash that pits Anson’s father and Kimo against a mystery lion dance team that turns out to be Anson and Lani.
Playwright Chan, a Hawaii-born Chinese-American whose parents were born and raised in Hong Kong, portrays Anson’s widower father as a comic but sympathetic figure. Dad wants the best for his son and doesn’t understand why Anson prefers fitting in with the “local” kids to excelling academically, taking piano lessons, studying kung fu and becoming a champion lion dancer. Chan’s successful performance as a thirty- or fortysomething father also shows his range as an actor — he played the titular young “peach boy” in HTY’s “Anime Momotaro” last fall.
Tesoro distinguishes himself once again playing a misunderstood or mistreated youth. Maile Holck is appropriately endearing as the rough-edged “local girl” who protects Anson from Kimo.
Moses Goods (Kimo) is superb in the demanding role of the bully. A pidgin-speaking update on Eddie Haskell, Kimo is loud and aggressive, but only until someone challenges him. Goods has some of the funniest lines in the show, and some good visual material as well. He was an instant hit with the youthful audience at the opening night audience last Friday.
The children also screamed with delight at each bit of toilet humor and at phrases such as “butt kisser” and “doodoo pose.”
A “lion” with a Hello Kitty backpack for a head is a visual highlight in director Reiko Ho’s imaginative staging of Chan’s story. The choreographed movement during the set changes is entertaining as well.
Dealing with bullies is a recurring theme at HTY this season and “Lion Dancer” picks up where “Anime Momotaro” left off. In HTY’s kinder and gentler version of the well-known Japanese fairy tale, Momotaro refused to fight, let alone kill, the bullies, er, demons, and instead gave them a share of the crops that they had previously been taking by force.
“The Lion Dancer” shows kids other ways to handle bullies. In one scene, Lani hits Kimo in the face and breaks his nose. In another, she kicks him in the chest. Finally, after she and Anson have won the lion dance contest, they win his friendship by buying him a skateboard.
John Berger has been a mainstay in the local entertainment scene for nearly 40 years. Contact him via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.