Review: Kumu Kahua welcomes historic drama
REVIEW BY JOHN BERGER / firstname.lastname@example.org
In December, 1900, Robert William Kalanihiapo Wilcox was elected Hawaii’s delegate to the U.S. House of Representatives. The Hawaiian Independent Party — known to history as the Home Rule Party — controlled both houses of the Territorial Legislature.
Presented by Kumu Kahua Theatre
» Where: Kumu Kahua Theatre, 46 Merchant St.
But the party’s majority was not veto-proof, and the governor of the territory, Sanford B. Dole, was the former president of the white minority government of the Republic of Hawaii and no friend of the Hawaiian people. Wilcox did not have a vote to trade for influence in Congress, but he went to Washington with great expectations that its members would live up to the ideals of the American dream and help the Hawaiian people.
Welcome to “Wilcox’s Shot,” playwright Sean T.C. O’Malley’s third look at the life and times of this controversial Hawaiian patriot.
O’Malley and cast member Albert Ueligitone portray Wilcox as a proud, passionate and visionary man driven by his love of Hawaii and desire to help the Hawaiian people. The first scene is slower than it needs to be but from there on through the final scene Ueligitone makes Wilcox a sympathetic albeit flawed protagonist. His flaws? Well, too much faith in the fairness of the American political system for one. Not enough faith in the political capabilities of his wife — played with similar charm and passion by Danielle Zalopany — for another.
Zalopany, seen previously in a series of smaller roles at Kumu Kahua and elsewhere, earns star status here. Zalopany’s large expressive eyes effectively convey Theresa Wilcox’s frustration at her husband’s unwillingness to accept her as an equal partner in his campaign to make friends and influence people in Washington.
Tony Nickelsen (Theodore Roosevelt) plays America’s 26th president as a bold colossus of a man, good-hearted and well-meaning, but constrained by political realities. Roosevelt treats Wilcox as an equal — they’re both men of action, combat veterans and sportsmen — at a time with others in Washington saw him as “colored.” O’Malley reminds us that Roosevelt was the first president to invite an African-American to dinner at the White House and that he was savagely attacked by much of the press for doing so.
Local stage veteran Troy M. Apostol stands out in two diametrically opposed supporting roles. He appears first in a broad comic role as a stereotypical Italian chef, then returns as a far more elaborate character — Afro-Caribbean entertainer Bert Williams. Apostol’s skill as an actor is the key ingredient in a scene where Williams realizes after meeting Robert and Theresa Wilcox that the “Hawaiian music” in his act is a caricature of the real thing. Apostol’s command of subtlety and nuance is key again in a scene where Williams allows Wilcox to deduce that he isn’t the ignorant “darkie” he plays on stage.
Jordan T. Savusa, last seen doing commedia dell’arte at the Hawaii Theatre, has a small but important scene with Ueligitone and Nickelsen as Booker T. Washington.
Scott Robertson (Leon Czolgosz), Rikki Jo Hickey (Emma Goldman) and Jenn Thomas (Edith Roosevelt) play historic figures that O’Malley writes as comic characters. Robertson is a bundle of nervous energy as the presidential assassin, Hickey a Euro-trash flirt as the Russia-born Jewish anarchist, and Thomas outspoken and domineering as Roosevelt’s second wife.
There is an interesting twist. O’Malley uses narration to put Wilcox’s campaign in historical perspective but the show doesn’t end with the conventional wrap-up on how things turned out for Wilcox, Roosevelt, Booker T. Washington and the Hawaiian people. If you don’t know, go ask somebody!
“Wilcox’s Shot” will be one kind of dramatic experience for audiences who know the history and a different type of experience for those who do not. Viewed from either perspective, it is a welcome look at another chapter in the life of a patriotic Hawaiian and at issues that still concern America and native-Hawaiians today. O’Malley’s decision to include Bert Williams as a character will certainly encourage at least a few people to search Google for information about him, as well.
John Berger has been a mainstay in the local entertainment scene for nearly 40 years. Contact him via email at email@example.com.