Review: ‘Sound and Beauty’ at KKT

Jun. 1, 2013 | 0 Comments

REVIEW BY RYAN SENAGA / Special to the Star-Advertiser

Kumu Kahua Theatre stages the rare non-locally written play with their production of David Henry Hwang’s “Sound and Beauty,” which is composed of two one-act plays, “The Sound of a Voice” and “The House of Sleeping Beauties.” Taurie Kinoshita directs both, originally staged in 1983.

“The Sound of a Voice” is the tale of a samurai traveler (Andrew Lum) who stops by the house of a mysterious woman (Jennifer Clayton) to rest for the night in feudal Japan. Or so it seems that is his intention. The sensual, Noh theater-like mood gives the proceedings the atmosphere of a ghost story.


‘Sound and Beauty’

Presented by Kumu Kahua Theatre

» Where: Kumu Kahua Theatre, 46 Merchant St.
» When: 8 p.m. Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays; also 2 p.m. Sundays through June 30
» Cost: $5-$20
» Info: (808) 536-4441 or

Lum growls and agonizes as the wandering guest who is tormented by voices that may be coming from… a vase of flowers. But Clayton dominates as the alternately slinky and servile femme fatale. Is she just a lonely woman who desperately longs to hear another voice in her empty house? Or is she actually a witch, putting a spell on the hapless man to keep him forever in her clutches?

This play seems to be about connection and the necessity to surrender strength in love, but the mysticism within the storyline creates a supernatural element that instills a pervasive added level of eeriness.

After intermission comes “The House of Sleeping Beauties,” a more straightforward narrative that imagines how Yasunari Kawabata might have written his novella “House of the Sleeping Beauties” as well as provides a fictional scenario for his unexplained suicide.

The novelist Kawabata (Dann Seki) visits a brothel, doing research for a story. Once there, the author strikes up a friendship of sorts with the madam of the house, played by Denise Aiko Chinen. Soon, he is a client every night, taking a “medicine” and literally sleeping with a beautiful young girl. Just sleeping. But Kawabata may not be there for purely literary intentions; he has some serious issues to work out regarding the suicide of his friend, writer Yukio Mishima, and he will require more than just a night’s rest with a youthful beauty.

Seki makes a proud, blustery and eventually vulnerable Kawabata but again, Hwang wrote the meatier role for the female lead. Chinen is a commanding madam of the comfort home; wise, witty, girlish (for a character in middle age) and ultimately tragic in her need to connect with her guest.

The production itself is almost Zen-like in its minimalism: just a stage with tatami mat flooring and sliding rice paper screen doors. A large panel on the center of the wall comes to illuminated life when lit from behind. During “The Sound of a Voice” we see a strange wailing, writhing apparition-like figure (Tyler Tanabe) that haunts Hanako’s visitor. And in “The House of Sleeping Beauties,” the panel is used for shadow play — again featuring Tanabe, now joined by Clayton, silently acting out poignant themes of Kawabata’s life in silhouette.

How are these two stories connected? What themes do they share to make up “Sound and Beauty”?

Japan. Suicide. Sleeping. Loneliness. How men and women relate. And of course, the need for intimacy and love, to name a few.

But beyond that, this is a unique opportunity to see two short modern classics from a master, Tony Award-winning Asian-American playwright. It may be a pithy summation, but “Sound and Beauty” looks and sounds, well, like a sort of melancholy beautiful.

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