Review: ‘the underneath’ at Kumu Kahua

Nov. 7, 2014 | 0 Comments

REVIEW BY WANDA A. ADAMS / Special to the Star-Advertiser

If you like stories that have a straightforward, chronological structure, do yourself a favor: Challenge your intellectual boundaries and go see “the underneath,” by Susan Soon He Stanton playing now through Dec. 7 at Kumu Kahua Theatre.

the underneath kkt

‘THE UNDERNEATH’

Presented by Kumu Kahua Theatre

» Where: Kumu Kahua Theatre, 46 Merchant St.
» When: 8 p.m. Thursdays through Saturdays and 2 p.m. Sundays through Dec. 7
» Cost: $20 (discounts available for seniors and students)
» Info: (808) 536-4441, kumukahua.org

You won’t get chronology. Not from Moment One until an hour and 45 minutes later (no intermission) when you’re looking at the same set and character that open the piece.

Be aware: There is no late seating at this play. This is not because there’s some dramatic opener; it’s because the action starts so subtly that you might talk through it with your seatmate and not even notice it.

So you won’t get the usual sort of play structure. But what you will get is art: edgy without being flat frustrating, provoking without being confusing. You’ll want to talk about it afterward — the hallmark of a well-written piece.

I’m not going to tell you much about what happens. Mystery is at the work’s core.

Let’s just say it focuses on two born-in-Hawaii brothers, one of whom escapes to money-making on the mainland and one of whom remains, living in a crumbling house with an auntie and making do as he can.

The elder brother, Colin, played by award-winning hip-hop dance teacher and master of choreography and movement Jonathan Clarke Sypert, careens from self-confident to hallucinatory (or is he?). Though steeped in regret, he’s also a player. Sypert more than holds his own in this pivotal role.

The younger, Jem, is variously seen as everything from a lei seller to a homeless guy (was he any of these things?) whose life is compared to an aimless conglomeration of castoff garbage drifting in the filthy waters of the Ala Wai. He’s a player, too. Brandon DiPaola works it in this demanding role — and works it well.

Then there is Auntie Evie, portrayed by the veteran actress Kati Kuroda. Kuroda commands the stage whenever she’s on it. She is the quintessential Chinese auntie: She knows everything, but she’ll never tell you everything. Not unless you get her one beer, rub her feet or give her one bat’ (“I sowah!”).

There is a temptress in red (Stephanie Keiko Kong). Watch for the change of color in her costume in her final appearance — clever work from costume designer Dusty Behner who also did a masterful job with Auntie Evie’s combination of sparkling jewelry and tattered bathrobe. And there is a godfather (William Ha’o), a sinister character hinted at but largely unseen.

This play stoops to none of the cheap laughs at localisms or the politically correct, culturally appropriate sensitivities that plague many Hawaii works. It dives beneath these. It could play anywhere — anywhere people stumble through complicated lives, struggle with their worst natures, age and regret, age and forget (or recast the story) and try to make up when it’s too late.
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Wanda Adams is a veteran journalist and Honolulu freelance writer and editor.

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