Review: ‘Battle’ is stark, dark, dramatic

Mar. 6, 2014 | 0 Comments

REVIEW BY JOHN BERGER / jberger@staradvertiser.com

A ruthless crime boss chooses as his protege and successor a young man whose family he has had killed.

If the premise of French playwright Laurant Gaudé’s dark urban drama on stage this weekend at Paliku Theatre, “Battle of Will,” sounds familiar, that could be due to its similarity to a classic Charles Bronson thriller. Or, maybe you remember University of Hawaii at Manoa faculty member Markus Wessendorf’s production of Gaudé’s play at Kennedy Theatre in 2005.

0306 battle of will

‘BATTLE OF WILL’

Presented by Windward Community College

» Where: Paliku Theatre, 45-720 Keaahala Rd.
» When: 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday, also 4 p.m. Sunday
» Cost: $15 general admission; $10 for seniors, military and students with valid ID
» Info: (808) 235-7310, www.etickethawaii.com

Be that as it may, director Taurie Kinoshita and an expressive cast of Windward Community College students make their staging of Gaudé’s work a very different experience from its UH-Manoa predecessor. Paliku Theatre’s open stage, high ceiling and steeply stacked rows of seating create a very different experience for the audience. You’re closer to the action at Paliku; and also looking down upon what’s happening on stage.

Another important difference — the crime lord’s one act of seemingly inexplicable folly seems more understandable now than it did in 2005.

Only one of the characters has a personal name. The others are all known for their place in society or the service they provide.

Boss is the wealthy head of a vast criminal organization. His base of operations is in a luxury hotel; a vast “wasteland” behind the hotel holds the bodies of his enemies and any unfortunates who happened to get caught in the crossfire. Boss is sometimes rude, sometimes philosophical, reminiscent in varying degrees of central characters in “Blue Velvet,” “Pulp Fiction,” “Scarface” and “The Cook, the Thief, His Wife and Her Lover,” with touches of Donald Trump as well. Everything is about power, money and control of everything.

A bungled hit — Boss’ arm is grazed by an inept sniper’s bullet — starts things rolling. Heads start rolling shortly afterward.

Kinoshita gets vivid, animated, fully-committed performances from each member of the cast. Jonathan “Fenix” Saavedra (Boss) makes the crime lord a surprisingly sympathetic figure. Jonathan David Cannell (Killer) is an awkward bundle of explosive energy as the tortured soul who must choose between personal vengeance and the immense power and wealth his would-be adoptive “father” is offering him.

Benjamin Nelson (First Bodyguard) and Michael Drzymkowski (Second Bodyguard) expressively articulate a rigid code of honor that requires loyality beyond death.

Brandon Anthony DiPaola (Brother) has two memorable scenes as a fast-talking opportunistic pimp. Jessica Kincaid (Girl) makes a complicated character believable with her portrayal of the prostitute who sees Killer as the way out of her situation. Ashley Nashaniki-Shangles (Wife) is the key player in other subplots.

Eybelle Nevins-Rosado and Domina Arroyo contribute most of the play’s fleeting comic content as a pair of bickering gravediggers, but Cannell is also an effective comic actor. Watch for the scene where Killer is introduced to Girl, his would-be adoptive father’s favorite prostitute, and told that it’s his turn to use her; Cannell’s subtle reactions make the scene work.

Christian Sylvester completes the cast as an illegal alien named Alec whose enigmatic status becomes important as the story plays out.

Dramatic lighting effects and imaginative use of sound add impact. Kinoshita and sound designer Toby Carvalho evoke memories of “A Clockwork Orange” when a particularly brutal beating is accompanied by Tommy Edwards’s 1958 hit, “It’s All in The Game.”

Be prepared for a long and leisurely journey through this film noir netherworld. Act I runs almost 90 minutes. It’s almost another hour after intermission before the last graves are filled and some of the survivors anticipate a brighter future.
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John Berger has been a mainstay in the local entertainment scene for more than 40 years. Contact him via email at jberger@staradvertiser.com.

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