Review: ‘My Boy, He Play Ball’

Nov. 11, 2015 | 0 Comments

REVIEW BY JOHN BERGER / jberger@staradvertiser.com

A sports scholarship has been a ticket out for talented young athletes for more than a century. For one in a million it leads to a career in professional sports and possible stardom. For tens of thousands of others, a scholarship can mean a college degree and a big boost up the economic ladder.

boy play ball

‘MY BOY, HE PLAY BALL’

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. 6
» Cost: $20
» Info: (808) 536-4441, www.kumukahua.org

Kumu Kahua’s production of “My Boy, He Play Ball,” a new play by Tammy Haili‘opua Baker, explores the issues involved in college athletics in fresh and timely style. There is no black-and-white here, no heroes or villains. Baker’s story is beautifully balanced — part drama, part comedy — with four primary characters who are both multifaceted and believable.

Kenny Kusaka stars as David “Boy” Kahalewai, a Kamehameha Schools graduate and stand-out football player who received a full scholarship to Louisiana State University. Next stop, the NFL? Well, maybe not.

After three years at LSU, Boy is planning to transfer to the University of Hawaii even though he isn’t assured a place in the UH football program. Boy’s mother accepts his decision; his father, whose NFL career was cut short by a knee injury, is appalled that Boy would throw away the opportunities that come with being part of a successful major program on the mainland to play out his eligibility with a losing team.

What he doesn’t know, and what Boy doesn’t want to tell him, is that he lost his full scholarship due to a coaching change as LSU.

Kusaka and LeGrand Tolo Lawrence, as Boy’s father Kawika, are beautifully matched as a dad and son who find it very difficult to communicate effectively. Lawrence is commanding presence — terrifying in some scenes, sweet in others. A scene where Kawika decries the various new types of electronic communication got some of the biggest laughs in the show on opening night last week.

Anette Arinix Amazing Aga, as Boy’s mother Maria Kahalewai, gradually brings her character into focus as representing Hawaiians who lost the connection to their language and culture when their kupuna died. Taylor Purvis is a scene-stealing delight as tech-savvy baby sister Kaleinani Kahalewai. Her sharp comic timing and expressive acting add impact to several scenes.

The Kahalewai ohana’s link to previous generations is represented by William Ha‘o as Tutu Man, Kawika’s deceased father, who observes the action in grim silence for much of Act 1 but gradually becomes more vocal. Hawaiian cultural and political issues come to the fore after intermission. Here, too, Baker avoids agit-prop simplicity.

The story is very current but there are several references to ex-UH football coach Norm Chow, who was fired Sunday, along with comments on the sad condition of the college’s football program in general. None seem intended to be cruel although they probably got more laughter on opening night than they would have if it was still Chow Time at UH.

“My Boy, He Play Ball,” by Tammy Haili‘opua Baker; directed by John Wat; costumes by Lanaly Cabalo; set design by James Davenport; lighting design by Cora Yamagata; make-up design by Newton Koshi; sound design by Stu Hirayama; video design by Denny Hironaga. With Anette Arinix Amazing Aga (Maria Kahalewai), William Ha‘o (Tutu Man/LSU football coach/sports broadcaster), Kenny Kusaka (David “Boy” Kahalewai), LeGrand Tolo Lawrence (Kawika Kahalewai) and Taylor Purvis (Kaleinani Kahalewai).
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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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