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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Friday, November 16, 2001

A spirited discussion of war

By Derek Paiva
Advertiser Staff Writer

Man, Mother, General — the characters are portrayed, from left, by Cono Badalamenti, Lei Sadakari and Blake Kushi. The play by a Singapore writer is being produced off campus by a UH student.

'The Spirits Play'

Presented by the Lizard Loft

8 p.m. today; 5 and 8 p.m. Saturday; 2 p.m. Sunday

The ARTS at Marks Garage

$10; $7 for students with ID

256-2584, 988-0754

Playwright Kuo Pao Kun's 1998 stage production "The Spirits Play" was written as a commentary on the emotional toll war takes on all humankind, whether one is a perpetrator or a victim. Not the most original idea for a stage production, to be sure, but in the mind of Kuo, at least, one still ripe for unique interpretation.

Required to read Kuo's play for her Modern Asian Drama class at the University of Hawai'i-Manoa last fall, Karen Zwicker came away from the reading impressed by Kuo's imagery-rich script of the wandering spirits of five people who had died in an unnamed war and were trying to find peace with their memories. Finding her Southeast Asian Theatre class the following April a bit too heavy on the works of Japanese, Chinese and Indonesian playwrights, Zwicker decided to direct the play by the Singapore-based Kuo as her final project.

"I thought it was important to give him a voice here, in a sense," said Zwicker, who will finally helm the play this weekend for the Lizard Loft at The ARTS at Marks Garage.

With productions of the play revised — both by Kuo and directors who have staged it — several times over its three-year, mostly Southeast Asian, theater history, Zwicker angled to produce her own stage interpretation as well. Zwicker's production begins with five spirits trapped on an island. On one side, four soldiers killed in action; on the other, a poet/reporter who died during the war.

"For 50 years the spirits have gone about their business, reliving the past, and having very little happening in their world," said Zwicker. That is, until the reporter makes his way to the soldiers' side of the island, where he helps them sort through their memories, revealing one of the group as the general responsible for their deaths.

"Confronted with all this, the characters sort of discover that these experiences that they've had due to the war were, in a sense, all in vain," said Zwicker. "They find out all these underlying things. Things they didn't know."

Perhaps not surprisingly, the necessity of war and the reasons humans wage war are brought into question by Kuo's characters.

Though Zwicker's planning of "The Spirits Play" began long before Sept. 11, the terrorist attacks and accompanying mobilization of U.S. military troops around Afghanistan have given several lines of at least one of Kuo's characters an eerie bristle of familiarity.

"Many of the lines said by the general are almost word-for-word what our leaders are saying right now," said Zwicker. "Lines like, 'War is sacrifice,' 'War is death,' 'This is not going to be quick.' A lot of this is what the general says in defending his position and on the choices that he made."

Still, Zwicker insisted that the goal for her production of "The Spirits Play" was to avoid the impression of a pro- or anti-war stance.

"The angle that I'm going for is that there is no resolution of this," said Zwicker. "War is something that has been going on for centuries and the cycle continues. The point is, we have to look at what has happened in the past and learn from the past. And we can never forget. From generation to generation, it's so easy to forget."