Review: ‘Flowers’ blooms nicely for Cataluna

Nov. 8, 2013 | 0 Comments

BY RYAN SENAGA / Special to the Star-Advertiser

Lee Cataluna — journalist, columnist, novelist and playwright — has grown into one of our foremost, funniest and beloved social commentators. She returns with her triumphant new play, “Flowers of Hawaii,” a title that makes the work sound like a lecture on indigenous plants, but thankfully what we are examining under the microscope are the dramas of one particularly raucous local family.

The title comes from a collection of nine sets of dishware Cataluna collected while in graduate school in Southern California, and the production is consequently divided into nine segments named after each of the plates’ floral patterns. Each “chapter” concentrates on a few family members and a significant moment in their lives.

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‘FLOWERS OF HAWAII’

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 Dec. 8 (no performance on Nov. 28)
» Cost: $5-$20
» Info: (808) 536-4441 or www.kumukahua.org

We see a grandmother’s and grandson’s last tragic meeting. An almost slapstick sequence when two teenagers discover they are related to each other. A scary moment between two neighbors, one of whom may be committing spousal abuse.

But each little tale comes with the Cataluna touch — the stories conclude with endings that you don’t see coming, but also somehow feel right.

Director Harry Wong III seamlessly blends each of the vignettes into each other on the spare stage made up of the cabinet of the nine sets of flowered plates, family photos on the walls, and black chairs and crates that are moved by the company as the setting changes from such places as a living room, a car and a neighbor’s yard.

Just as it plays out in real life for most families, all lifestyles are portrayed here. Politicians, adulterers, goths, the elderly, the drug-addicted, the sex-offender living next door. (Watch out for a jaw-droppingly hilarious and unexpected moment of womanly love, too.) Same-sex marriage opponents should definitely not attend.

The ensemble cast required to produce this blossoming diversity are all excellent. Getting the most stage time is the family’s matriarch Mary, excellently played by Kati Kuroda with exasperation, weariness, and a surprising reserve of feistiness. Two teenage goths, played by Nick Nakama and Jaime Bradner, run through their scene with perfect comic timing and tenderness.

As Paul, a potentially abusive spouse, the actor known as Q brings a certain sense of danger to the proceedings. Reb Beau Allen is a firefighter carrying on with his co-worker’s wife and his comedic timing is tinged with humorous frustration.

Each vignette lasts roughly 10 minutes, and so the two-hour play moves along very quickly. Almost before you know it, “Flowers of Hawaii” reaches its inevitable and poignant conclusion — and at that moment, you realize Lee Cataluna is Hawaii’s version of Nora Ephron.

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