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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Friday, July 19, 2002

A Shakespearean initiation for a new theater

By Wayne Harada
Advertiser Entertainment Writer

Shen Nissan Sugai, left, plays King Claudius and Robb Bonnell is the troubled Danish prince in "Hamlet," which kicks off the Shakespeare Festival at Windward Community College this weekend.

Brad Goda

A Shakespeare Festival, assembling three of the Bard's classics, will help Windward Community College establish its new Paliku Theatre starting tonight in Kane'ohe.

The endeavor, presented in repertory, is theatrically rare, exciting and demanding.

From a fan's perspective, it's a chance to soak up seldom-performed Shakespeare works.

From an actor's perch, it's an opportunity to flex and shine, since each play employs separate casts, with one exception (Mid-Pacific Institute teacher Linda Johnson is in two plays).

From the theater's standpoint, it's a great way to christen the air-conditioned, 300-seat venue and begin building a cultural haven on O'ahu's windward side.

For the three directors, the play's the thing — and the festival is an homage to Terence Knapp, for three decades the guiding force and mentor to thousands of drama students at the University of Hawai'i-Manoa, where he was the beacon of Shakespearean knowledge.

All the world's a stage as the directors ready their respective choices:

• "Hamlet," a drama, directed by R. Kevin Doyle, beginning tonight.
• "Two Gentlemen of Verona," a comedy, directed by Tony Pisculli, opening July 26.|
• "Coriolanus," a political drama, directed by Harry Wong III, opening Aug. 2.

Shakespeare Festival

Starts tonight, continues through Aug. 11

Paliku Theatre, Windward Community College

Three-play package: $40 general, $32 seniors and military; $20 students

Single admission: $15 general, $12 seniors and military, $8 students

235-7433 (WCC's Hale Kuhina); 526-4400 (Ticket Plus)

Plays in repertory:

• "Hamlet"
Opens at 8 p.m. today; repeats at 8 p.m. Saturday, 4 p.m. Sunday, 8 p.m. July 25, 4 p.m. July 27, 8 p.m. Aug. 8

• "Two Gentlemen of Verona"
Opens at 8 p.m. July 26; repeats at 8 pm. July 27, 4 p.m. July 28, 8 p.m. Aug. 1, 4 p.m. Aug. 3, 8 p.m. Aug. 10

• "Coriolanus"
Opens at 8 p.m. Aug. 2; repeats at 8 p.m. Aug. 3, 4 p.m. Aug. 4, 8 p.m. Aug. 9, 4 p.m. Aug. 10, 4 p.m. Aug. 11.


Doyle, who teaches at Mid-Pacific School of the Arts and is a director with the improv group Loose Screws, selected "Hamlet," the murder-mayhem vehicle about the melancholic Prince of Denmark, simply because it's his favorite play.

"What better play to open a new theater than one of Shakespeare's most beloved?" he said. "A lot of the questions Hamlet raises are pertinent now; should you act, should you not act; should you take revenge, should you not. It has something to say to a modern audience. And it's also entertaining."

The notion of doing a festival hinged on the availability of the venue, and also on the commitment by his fellow directors. "We all were stunned by how many actors came out (to audition) for this (festival); with the numbers we got, we might have been able to cast a fourth play."

Then again, there were some folks who thought Doyle, Pisculli and Wong "were as crazy as Hamlet." Three by the Bard? In Hawai'i? Fat chance attracting audiences.

"With the new theater, it's a chance to see the new space, with wonderful sight patterns. Plus an interesting thrust that butts out into the audience, on both sides; it's a stage like no other in Honolulu," Doyle said.

"Throw in state-of-the-art lighting and costumes coordinated by Sandra Finney (of Kennedy Theatre) and you have the makings of a real festival," said Doyle.

Casting notes:

• Robb Bonnell plays Hamlet.
• Shen Nissan Sugai plays Claudius.
• Jeremy G. Pippin plays Horatio.
• Scot Davis plays Laertes.
• Blake Kushi plays Polonius.
• Danel Victoria Verdugo plays Gertrude.
• Taurie Kinoshita plays Ophelia.

'Two Gentlemen'

"I've wanted to do this play, an obscure comedy, for a number of years," said Pisculli, a director with Loose Screws who also teaches at MPI.

"Everyone's done and seen 'A Midsummer Night's Dream.' But 'Two Gentlemen' is considerably more rare, but also considered a problem comedy, about the relationship between two men, whose friendship is stronger than men in love with women."

There are layers of plot complications and surprises, of course, but Pisculli's take on "Gentlemen" is that all roles — male as well as female — will be enacted by women.

But there's a quick reason for tapping women to play men. "The practical one was that there's just a lot of talented women in town, but not a lot of key roles in Shakespeare for women," said Pisculli. "If I did an all-female thing, I get them to work."

The notion at hand, he said, is that the play takes place where once there were men but not any longer. "It's an all-female world, which doesn't work without men, and that's the point. Half of the actors put on male clothing, have men mannerisms and fake beards and as such serve as a badge of rank; they are sociologically men, to balance out the sexes."

Casting notes:

• Elizabeth Wolfe plays Valentine.
• Luka Lyman plays Proteus.


Wong's choice is hinged to his days as an Master of Fine Arts candidate at Kennedy Theatre. "To take a comprehensive exam, you had to have a knowledge of theaters and pick two plays," he said. "Mine were Sam Shepherd's 'True West' and Shakespeare's 'Coriolanus.'"

"It's Shakespeare's most political work, but it's very contemporary, beginning with the uprising of the common people and the way nobles and politicians squelched the uprising," said Wong, who is artistic director at Kumu Kahua.

As Shakespearean plays go, Wong said the work "is his most unrelenting, showing people as political animals, with no sympathy for his characters."

Wong hopes fans of Shakespeare will turn out. And he said staging works by the Bard is all about "making characters come alive and creating good theater."

Further, he said, it affords local playwrights a chance to see the best writing existing in classical theater.

"In other cities, like New York, Seattle, Chicago and San Francisco, you can go to theater to get a taste of some great (contemporary) writers, like David Mamet and Tom Stoppard. For me and my Kumu Kahua affiliation, I hope our local writers will come see and enjoy Shakespeare, too, and how he constructed his language."

"As much as Shakespeare is universal, he's writing about England, making fun of politicians. Even Shakespeare writes about what he knows; the application to Hawai'i is obvious. The two can inform each other; to see how Shakespeare made it all work and how he impacts us now is something (of a lesson)."

Casting notes:

• Moses Goods plays Coriolanus.
• Linda Johnson plays Volumnia.