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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Tuesday, August 20, 2002

Bumatai's dedication is no act

By Lee Cataluna
Advertiser Columnist

Up until Ray Bumatai, I thought the adage "the show must go on" meant that you should limp through to the bitter end no matter how tired or grumpy or junk you felt. But Ray's version is on a much higher plane. In his world, there is no limping.

Ray had been having symptoms for months, but one week into the run of the musical at Diamond Head Theatre, he got the diagnosis: a brain tumor. Ray got his doctor to agree to put off surgery until after the play closed.

The second weekend, he performed Thursday and Friday. At the start of the Saturday show, he says he felt fine, but as the night went on he started losing his sight.

"First there were these big floating spots that would erase whatever was in my field of vision," he said. The spots kept getting bigger. By the third act, Ray couldn't see anything at all.

None of the other cast knew, and no one in the audience could tell, but Ray made it through eight scenes, costume changes, several songs and a dance number by relying on the other actors' voices, remembering where things were on stage and a fierce dedication to "the show must go on."

He went to the hospital the next morning and was put in intensive care. The tumor had hemorrhaged on stage. Ray had surgery the next day to remove the tumor. Much of his vision was restored. He was awake and talking after surgery. More than talking, he was joking. More than joking, he was working on a whole routine of brain jokes.

"Let me give you a piece of my mind."

"I need that like I need a hole in my head."

"Doctor, I'm feeling funny."

Two days later, Ray went home. Two weeks after that, he was back for a pick-up rehearsal. He didn't need it. He was as fast and funny and full of energy as ever, even after the first of six weeks of radiation and chemotherapy.

Ray did the last three shows, and each night when he made his entrance, there was thunderous applause. Everyone knew what it meant to have him back on that stage.

Now the standard has been set for "the show must go on." Sore back, hoarse, broke up with your boyfriend? So what. Be like Ray Bumatai. Get on the stage and finish the show. And don't limp. Fly.

After the run, the cast and crew took home bumper stickers as a tribute to Ray's strength and sense of humor. They're similar to the ones that honor Eddie Aikau, but these, for a man with his own brand of commitment, say "Ray Would Stay."

In the hospital, someone asked, almost scolding, why he chose to stay on stage when his vision was gone and he was in great pain. Ray's wife Karen shook her head and said, "Because he's Ray Bumatai."

Lee Cataluna's column runs Tuesdays, Fridays and Sundays. Reach her at 535-8172 or lcataluna@honoluluadvertiser.com.