'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
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
Spouse abusing ...
Pagan Tattooed Savage ...
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.