Review: ‘Echoes of Dat Red Guitar’

May. 29, 2015 | 0 Comments

REVIEW BY JOHN BERGER / jberger@staradvertiser.com

Lee Tonouchi’s newest play, “Echoes of Dat Red Guitar,” at Kumu Kahua through the end of June is stunning, beautifully written contemporary American theater and one of the most impressive community theater productions of the current season.

22 T9 Echoes of Dat Red Guitar1

‘ECHOES OF DAT RED GUITAR’

Presented by Kumu Kahua Theatre

» Where: 46 Merchant Street
» When: 8 p.m. Thursdays through Saturdays and 2 p.m. Sundays through June 28
» Cost: $20 general admission (discounts available)
» Info: (808) 536-4441, www.kumukahua.org
» Note: Contains sexual themes, partial nudity and relatively explicit sexual violence

But be forewarned: Despite being officially described as “darkly humorous” and referred to as a “pidgin comedy,” “Red Guitar” includes mass murder and an explicit rape scene. The violent mayhem all make sense in the context of the story that Tonouchi, aka “Da Pidgin Guerrilla,” is telling. The sexual violence and partial nudity is supposed to shock while making an important dramatic point, and it does both. Adults and mature teens who can handle this type of action up close will applaud Tonouchi for his writing and Kumu Kahua for going well beyond its usual content limits.

Folks whose tastes run to standard “pidgin comedy” shows should take the “mature content” advisory very seriously. Tonouchi didn’t write this for you.

Alvin Chan stars as Guy, a socially inept and painfully shy loner who considers Kikaida, the Japanese android superhero hugely popular in Hawaii in the 1970s, his “personal Japanese aumakua.” Guy is a lifelong Kikaida fan who dreams of being as heroic and powerful as the character. (The title of the play refers to the red guitar carried by Jiro, Kikaida’s handsome human alter ego). After taking 10 years to get a four-year college degree, Guy ventures out of his parents’ home, gets a white-collar job as a Hawaii state government employee and is immersed in the workers abrasive “ainokea” culture.

Chan has done outstanding work on the local stage in everything from Shakespeare to children’s theater since his Hawaii debut as a sensitive young gay man in “A Language of Their Own” at Kumu Kahua in 2001. This is his new personal best. As the story jumps between past and present, bad times and worse times, Chan plays Guy as a young child, older child, teenager and adult on a steady descent into mental instability. He is thoroughly convincing in every scene.

Wil Kahele plays Guy’s verbally abusive father. It is Kahele’s best performance as a “heavy” since he played the pedophile in Kumu Kahua’s original production of “Folks You Meet in Longs” in 2003. Salem Sipes (Girlie), making her Kumu Kahua debut, is superb as the co-worker who reaches out to Guy despite his odd behavior and mercurial mood changes.

Playwright Tonouchi successfully juxtaposes comedy with painful realism, light-hearted nostalgia with insightful social commentary. The “ainokea” attitude of government employees who “no need work” because there are no consequences for slacking off is referenced early and often, and with consistent comic effect.

Tonouchi also addresses issues such as political correctness. He turns one such trope on its head in a scene where the workers’ Caucasian boss fumes, “Only haoles should be allowed to call each other haoles!” Knowledge of the lyrics of the Frank De Lima hit, “Glenn Miyashiro,” is helpful in appreciating some of Tonouchi’s subtler references.

Director Reb Beau Allen and his uniformly talented cast and tech crew amp up the impact of Tonouchi’s script with split-second ensemble work and broad physical comedy. Video clips and sound cues accent the action and take the story up yet another level.

A karaoke duel between Gay and his co-workers in one of many memorable comic scenes in an outstanding production.
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“Echoes of Dat Red Guitar,” by Lee Tanouchi; directed by Reb Beau Allen; sets by Reb Beau Allen; costumes by Rusty Behner; lighting by Thomas Tochiki; sound by Jonathan Clarke Sypert. Running time: 2 hours 12 minutes.

With: Alvin Chan (Guy), Shawn Forsythe (Gil), Eddy Gudoy (Gannon), Brandon Hagio (Glenn), Wil Kāhele (Dad), Christine Lanborn (Grace), Minnie Quan (Mom), Jonathan Reyn (Garan), Salem Sipes (Girlie) and Shawn Thomsen (Gage).

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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