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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Thursday, January 31, 2002

'A Pagan Tattooed Savage' missing unifying elements

By Joseph T. Rozmiarek
Advertiser Theater Critic

 •  'A Pagan Tattooed Savage'

8 p.m. today through Saturday, the ARTS at Marks Garage

$15; tickets available at Hawai'i Theatre box office. Call: 528-0506

"A Pagan Tattooed Savage" is a performance piece that has a lot going for it — freshness, honesty and tangible emotion. Still, that's not enough to transform a series of vignettes inspired by a poem into a finished drama for the stage.

The one-man show is acted by Lopaka Kapanui, who wrote the original poem and developed the play through a series of improvisational workshops. The final script was co-written by Kapanui and Robert Pennybacker, who also directs. Jazz guitarist Shoji Ledward provides musical accompaniment during the performance, part of a series of Pacific Island Theatre called "On The Edge," produced by Tim Bostock at the ARTS at Marks Garage in downtown Honolulu.

The poem is the rhyming lament of a contemporary Native Hawaiian male who doesn't fit the stereotype imposed on him by Hawaiians and non-Hawaiians alike.

Kapanui recites it to open and close the performance. In part:

"I am a Renaissance,

An enigma ...

But there is only one thing they see:

It's the hula dancing

Sign holding

Spouse abusing ...

Pagan Tattooed Savage ...

In me."

After its poetic prologue, the play backs up to examine the reality behind the stereotypes through a string of short scenes, with Kapanui playing all the parts. These characters are definitely marked, but below skin level, in their diminished spirit.

The first vignette traces an encounter between a tour-bus driver and a haole businesswoman passenger. He's being helpful, offering aloha and expecting nothing in return. She accuses him of trying to hit on her; he counters that she's only after a free ride.

Later, in a religious debate, two Hawaiian activists decide that it's thoroughly acceptable for one of them to be Catholic and the other Buddhist.

The last character is a transgendered son, speaking to his mother's grave all the important words that he was unable to say to her.

As a performer, Kapanui transitions between characters in the same scenes a bit too deliberately. While he distinguishes them clearly, the space between them is too wide to promote dramatic flow or to generate a believable tempo. And while the intent is to break stereotypes, the effect is to exchange them for images that are one-dimensional and static.

The final image is Kapanui in full native dress, with malo and skin tattoos, performing a violent dance and Hawaiian chant. The overall effect is unsettling, but fails to offer a satisfying alternative to the stereotypes maligned by the original poem.