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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Thursday, July 25, 2002

Big Island summer Shakespeare production celebrates 25 years

By Hugh Clark
Advertiser Staff Writer

 •  'One Uddah Mid'Summah'

7:30 p.m. today — Saturday

Kalakaua Park, Hilo


(808) 935-9155

HILO, Hawai'i — Twenty-five years ago, Jackie Pualani Johnson launched the Shakespeare in the Park summer theater productions under Hilo's historic banyan tree in Kalakaua Park.

She is now directing the drama series' silver anniversary production under the giant tree, planted by the Merrie Monarch himself.

A two-hour version of "A Midsummer Night's Dream," entitled "One Uddah Mid'Summah," is adapted to what Johnson calls local style, with frequent use of pidgin.

A quarter-century ago, Johnson was just back home from Colorado after earning her master's degree and pregnant with the first of three daughters. She is now a drama professor at the University of Hawai'i-Hilo.

She agreed to lead a celebration of the quarter century, if she were allowed to rewrite the script in local terms, setting the play at Akaka Falls.

Her cast of 30 players is broken into "da lunas," "da workers" and "da menehune."

Shakespeare in the Park remains as it started — a labor of love with a few small grants to pay for props and support by Hawai'i County to close Kalakaua Street, which separates the park from the East Hawai'i Cultural Center.

Johnson loves the mix of newcomers with veteran actors while creating a summer treat for those willing to bring an umbrella to weather the frequent evening rain showers.

The cast is varied from Jeri Gertz, who appeared in 1997, returning as Tita Nina — the queen of da menehune — to several youngsters making their first appearances.

Johnson has directed, appeared in or attended all but one year, when she was committed to a summer musical at Volcano.

She is pleased that a community players' product, Justina Mattos, is her assistant, having just earned a doctoral degree at UH-Manoa.

As a UHH faculty member, Johnson sees summertime theater as community service and "just keeping the (creative) juices flowing."

By her estimation, at least 32,000 have attended performances in the park since the beginning, despite some noted rain-outs — averaging one or two a year.

This year's show "is so very funny," said Johnson. "There are incredible topical references."

Shakespeare, however, might have wondered about hula dancers and sumo figures who appear as part of the production's dizzy chorus line — Ka Halau Menehune O Globe Trotters, comprised of parents and their sons and daughters.

Performances are "in da bushes," where she believes that Shakespeare would have been comfortable. Those bushes are highlighted by wildly painted tin roofing that serves as the backdrop for the stage, just underneath the usually dripping banyan.

Before the closing performance Saturday, "One Uddah Crafts Faire" will be held from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. in Kalakaua Park. The cultural center and players will benefit from the proceeds.