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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Thursday, January 17, 2002

A clash of fantasy and reality that works

By Joseph T. Rozmiarek
Advertiser Theater Critic

 •  'To the Last Hawaiian Soldier'

When: 8 p.m. Thursdays- Saturdays, 2 p.m. Sundays, through Feb. 10

Where: Kumu Kahua Theatre

Admission: $16; discounts available

Information: 536-4441

Suppose a contemporary Hawaiian sovereignty activist was inspired to an act of violence to advance his cause. Suppose he detonated a bomb in a Waikiki hotel in what he believed to be an act of courage. Suppose further that his inspiration came from the 19th-century Hawaiian loyalist Robert Wilcox, who led an unsuccessful rebellion during the last years of the Hawaiian monarchy.

It may be a difficult stretch to fully embrace that premise, but the new play at Kumu Kahua has the remarkable ability to pull us into that action. "To the Last Hawaiian Soldier," by Sean T. C. O'Malley, is also excellently directed and acted, and features a powerhouse in the central role.

O'Malley's script is wonderfully elastic, snapping forward and back through time and space, playing scenes simultaneously, and connecting dialogue that bridges more than a century. The effect is a network of characters and action where everything has an antecedent, but where no one's future is certain.

Moses Goods III plays the historical Robert Wilcox and the contemporary activist, Junior Koalua. It's a demanding requirement for Goods, who shows great discipline and remarkable range. Not only does he master Junior's pidgin and Wilcox's reserved Victorian rhetoric, he alternates between them as the characters speak to each other during moments of crisis.

With insightful direction by Harry Wong III, actors in the supporting roles meet the same high performance standard, while controlling fast-paced action that is often emotional and sometimes violent.

Margaret Jones plays Pua, the unwitting catalyst and link between Wilcox's past and Junior's present. Pua and Junior were high school lovers, before she went on to law school and wrote the historical account of Wilcox's rebellion that becomes Junior's inspiration.

Here, the play could benefit from additional background. We are asked to accept on faith the undefined events that led them down widely separate path, which improbably cross once again with tumultuous results. We need to know the source of Junior's bitterness and the events that propelled him into the terrorist role. And what in Pua's character changed her from a promiscuous teenager into a published author with a promising future?

Nevertheless, there is one special scene in which the pair meet again in the abandoned military bunker that was their adolescent trysting place — once more demonstrating how O'Malley manages to fold time in on itself.

There, Pua reads the lovers' names inscribed on the walls, projecting the passion of lost youth into the reality of the present: "... divorced ... died from cancer ... moved to Guam. ..." Add to this the extra possibility that neither may emerge from the bunker alive.

Wil T. K. Kahele plays King David Kalakaua and Zhan Hunt plays Lili'uokalani. John Wythe White alternates in contemporary and historical roles.

"To the Last Hawaiian Soldier" has a fascinating premise that crunches fantasy hard against gritty reality. It may lack the necessary depth to make it truly convincing, but it is never boring.